|12.29.18||The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins||Clint McElroy, Carey Pietsch||This was a nice gift because I probably wouldn't have bought it on my own since I listened to the podcast but was still interested to see how it translated to graphic novel form. It's pretty good! It's weird to read all of Travis' and Justin's quips one after another without huge blocks of Griffin setting the scene in between. I like that they put Griffin in there every once in a while to remind us that there is that layer of people playing a game instead of everything being unironically real. It's also weird to see the characters visualized in a concrete fashion rather than purely in my imagination or as myriad variations in the little bit of fan art that I've seen. I guess Taako's skin is that color? The final weird thing was having certain names be changed here for the sake of avoiding any copywritten D&D material since they started with an official adventure module using official names like Phandolin and whatnot. It was still a fun read though and I'm looking forward to the next one as it was probably my favorite arc in the podcast.|
|12.29.11||A Clash of Kings||George R. R. Martin||Second Game of Thrones book and the first that I didn't see first as a show. I'm kind of amazed at how fast the last half went, considering it's almost a thousand-page book. What I'm not surprised at is how Martin constantly kills off characters that I've grown to like. It's weird how none of the antagonistic characters seem to die but almost everything that you like and hope for ends badly. Damn authors and their godlike powers. At one point I tried to skip ahead to see if what I was reading was actually true or not but forced myself to go back and just keep reading. damn Theon Greyjoy and his whole Iron Islands. I definitely loathe a few people but you know... surprisingly few. I think it's a testament to Martin's prowess with character that even the bad guys have their own reasons and most of the good guys are somewhat tainted. Maybe that's because if they were all good they'd be dead by now.
The book also does a great job with narrative perspective and driving home the fact that communication of big events travels rudimentarily and sometimes not at all. Remembering that some characters still think the world is one way when you've just read it change dramatically is pretty cool, as is the constant state of fear that these people could easily be lost at a moment's notice and no one would care. Furthermore, the reader himself is scared because at any time someone could mention that they heard that another character died since last we caught up with them. Just like the characters themselves, it's hard for the reader to believe some of the news that they receive.
|12.28.18||The Outsider||Stephen King||SPOILER ALERT
For the first third or so I was not having a great time with this book. I thought the whole book was going to be Terry Matiland trying to prove his innocence while some supernatural being snuck around. However, when Terry died my engagement with the book boosted by a hundred percent. All of a sudden it wasn't going to be Stephen King trying out a legal drama, but instead that was just a lengthy intro used to greet us with the detective character. Then when Holly Gibney (the lady from the Mr. Mercedes books) showed up and it became an unofficial fourth book in that series, everything made sense. In the end, I liked it very much, maybe in part because it veered away from territory that I wasn't interested in at all.|
|12.28.16||The Wrong Side of Goodbye||Michael Connelly||The next episode in the Harry Bosch/Mickey Haller universe of Michael Connelly. I liked this one more then the last few I think. Here, Harry is in a new situation career-wise, but also getting more reflective and he spends some time in the past going back to his Viet Nam days, which I really enjoyed. I feel like the last few were just more and more episodic like not much happens really... and I guess the same could be said for this one plot-wise (spoiler alert, he solves the cases that he's working on), but this one still stands out more for me because I really feel like he's an old man now. Several times he gets bested physically by others who are younger and fitter. I guess it's hard to convey in a book because Harry's mind is still sharp, I appreciate that he's graduated on to full-on retirement and I can see him much older. I feel like he's been almost-retired for like 3 or 4 books, so for it to finally happen is refreshing. Liked it.|
|12.27.14|| Revival||Stephen King||This one was dedicated to people like Stoker and Mary Shelley and Lovecraft and other Cthulhu Mythos writers. That dedication didn't really make much sense until the last 50 pages or so but then it really kicked in. Most of it is easy Stephen King writing... not a ton happens but it's written really well and you immediately empathize with the characters so you float along with the confidence that it will somehow pay off and of course it does. Even if the plot events are a tad familiar, the Lovecraftian stuff at the end is quite evocative and effective. Had it a different ending I probably wouldn't care for it that much but as it is I ended up liking it. I feel like with King and Connelly I will read whatever they put out and find enjoyment with it no questions asked.|
|12.27.04|| Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar||Valve||more of an art book than a novel or anything, but still containing lots of great conceptual artwork, high-detail snapshots, and little snippets of information from the people that made this great video game. After reading an interview with the "author," I was expecting a bit more text and narrative about the actual journey that Valve went on to end up with the game that I played. Instead, we just get hints and side-references to all of the stuff left out, creating a feeling that the game that ten times the work was done than what was shown in the released game, but not enough information about any of it to justify the exclusion. It was a little frustrating for me, but the book is nice with a hard cover and glossy pages and all that. I was just hoping for a bit more content.|
|12.26.17|| Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier||Mark Frost||This much-shorter follow-up to both the Secret History book and the third season of the show held the promise of possible explanation and closure for all us fans. It's frustratingly short on both, but I guess that's really how Twin Peaks should end. It does answer a couple (really big) questions definitively so I'm pretty happy with that, and generally ties a lot of minor loose ends regarding characters that don't show up in season 3 or make very brief appearances. i do wish it was a little more multi-format like the Secret History and perhaps a tad bit longer, but I just got the season 3 blus so I guess I now have those to go over in search of more knowledge. Overall this wasn't a bad bookend to the series at all.|
|12.26.15|| Bazaar of Bad Dreams||Stephen King||I don't really like reading short stories except for these King collections. For some reason, his really work for me. I'd read some of these before (thanks to that Blockade Billy novella I bought a few years back), but didn't dislike any of them. Maybe it's because this is the most recent but the last one actually stuck with me the most. Very sad. Drunken Fireworks is also quite good. Typical King quality... but always macabre.|
|12.25.09|| Black Dahlia Avenger||Steve Hodel||The author, a 20-year retired LAPD homicide detective, finds a smal photo album that belonged to his recently deceased father and, among other things, finds a nude photo of a girl he believes to be Elizabeth Short AKA Black Dahlia. Thus starts a 3-year investigation and 560-page book detailing his dad, Short, and the reasons why he believes the former killed the latter.
Most of this book is extremely interesting. A lot of the evidence Hodel puts together about Short and his dad is enough to convince me that he was indeed the killer. It's kind of like reading a Michael Connelly book where Harry Bosch looks through the murder book for the 8th time and finally sees the connections, except this is REAL.
However, I think the author succumbed to a syndrome I see sometimes with movies. It happens for more than just movies and I don't know the scientific term for it (if there is such a thing) but I call it Magnolia syndrome. The flip-side of the coin is another behavior I call Brian Helgeland syndrome. Allow me to explain:
When you sit down to watch a movie, ideally it's with a completely unbiased and unexpectational mindset. You let the movie unfold and you either like it or you don't. At either end of the spectrum, there's a certain point that, once the movie crosses that point, it starts building upon itself like a snowball into an avalanche. Whem a movie is bad, after a certain point there is absolutely nothing you can't make fun of. Every aspect of the film is crap and there's nothing it can do to redeem itself in your eyes (it happens to me a lot with movies that Brian Helgeland writes). If the movie's good however, after a certain point you recognize every single frame as inspired work of genius. The collar of the shirt is slightly ajar because his soul is out of whack and the car that drives by in the background is symbolic and every watch band, cup of coffee, and necktie is either a masonic reference or 8:2 (as is the case of Magnolia). It doesn't really matter if the director or writer was actually going for that or whether it was an accident or was really supposed to mean something much less interesting, at that point the movie can do no wrong.
I think that's what happened to Steve Hodel as he was conducting his investigation. He found out so much evil crap about his dad that, once he pinned him on Dahlia, all of these other murders followed suit via Magnolia syndrome. In the book, not only does he like his dad for Elizabeth Short but 8 other single women found murdered around that time along with about 20 other murders which he isn't positive about but believes may be probable. Furthermore, he believes that his dad's old buddy was also a murderer that helped him and continued on his own after his dad fled the country in 1950. For the Short stuff (and two other girls), I believe his evidence is pretty convincing. For all this other stuff, it gets pretty thin. Looking on Amazon, I see his new book is about how his dad was actually the Lipstick killer in Chicago, the Jigsaw killer in the phillipines, and the Zodiac killer in San Francisco. To me, that's Magnolia effect at work.
But that doesn't change the evidence and timeline he's put together as far as Black Dahlia goes. And I guess it is a pretty chilling question to ask yourself: This guy lived into his 90s, spent most of his life super rich, and GOT AWAY WITH IT. If the kind of guy who could cut Elizabeth Short in half, taunt the police, kill another girl just to keep the papers interested, and have sex with his daughter GETS AWAY WITH IT, I wonder what else he did in the intervening 50 years between 1950 and his death. Was he a sensationalistic serial killer wherever he lived? Who knows... maybe.
In the end, the guy's dead so we'll never know any of this. Thinking about it does chill your bones a bit though, and it's nice to finally have someone I can comfortably believe is responsible for Black Dahlia.
|12.21.04||The System of the World||Neal Stephenson||'tis done.
for me at least.
Again, it took me an incredibly long time to read this, but I feel sort of grateful as it feels all the more epic to be complete.
I think the most interesting this about the third book is that I really came to like Daniel Waterhouse. In Quicksilver, none of the characters really gripped me. The confusion got me to like Jack and Eliza and now this book had me really rooting for everybody, including Daniel.
Now knowing how grand and epic everything ends up, I have to say that i remember back to Quicksilver with increasing fondness, especially the parts where Jack and Eliza are bumming around Germany, deciding to create their own money on a lark, and colliding with folk like Enoch and Leibniz.
The third book though, was great. great writing. I am very much interested in the architectual history of London now. I've been watching movies all week trying to get a visual sense of that time period but each movie tends to be off by a hundred years or so... and of course, they're movies.
but i really enjoyed myself through all three books now. I've never been one to read supra-long books so it's a new feeling for me to have characters that I get to follow for near their entire lives.
I also noticed that the book spans huge long expanses of 30-page chapters in the beginning but by the end the chapters speed by in just a few pages as all events come together.
and of course now it's over. no further adventures of Jack, natural philosophies of Daniel, convoluted about the greatest minds of the era, or political/financial machinations of Eliza.
|12.19.17|| Artemis||Andy Weir||Andy Weir's follow-up to The Martian. I liked this for the most part. A lot of what's good about The Martian - the intelligence, the practical knowledge of engineering and chemistry and geology, the snarkiness of the narrator - are here. I also liked that he put a caper storyline in a sci-fi setting. Parts felt a lot like Chinatown even. However, with his setting - a city on the moon - he ends up having to explain a lot of things as they happen. It feels a bit like establishing the rules just as he's breaking them. I guess The Martian reads a similar way, but the premise of that book feels more grounded in modern-day. It's more of a 'what if?' book whereas this is unequivocally off in future sci-fi land. As such, all the incredible feats of science that the protagonist accomplishes can't help but feel a little manufactured because they guy who's solving the problem is also inventing the problem to begin with. Again, as I type that out, it seems that could be arguably true about EVERY book so... call it a minor foible. My only other minor foible is that Weir wrote in a female protagonist's voice. I don't think he quite nailed it. I think there's a lot of overcompensating... so many sex jokes. It feels like a man pretending to be a woman... it's a man's sense of humor at play. So a lot of that stuff felt a tiny bit cringey to me. Not enough to hamper my enjoyment of the book however... I liked it a lot. Not as much as The Martian, but compared to other highly-anticipated Sophomore efforts (ahem, Armada) it's a total success.|
|12.17.07||The Sweet Forever||George Pelecanos||Third book in his "DC Quartet." I liked this one too although the whole "everyone dies at the end" climax is started to get a bit old and he doesn't quite connect the historical context as well as King Suckerman or Hard Revolution, and certainly not as well as Ellroy since the two quartets draw comparison. Still, a good read to be sure. Only one more left!|
|12.13.08|| Lisey's Story||Stephen King||Ugh. Well, OK I liked the stuff in Boo'Ya Moon. That's about it. For a book this long, to have the vast majority be memories makes it pretty hard for me to get through. And even when actual real things do happen there are bits about them that I didn't like, like the sisters laughing in the rain storm or whatever. Yeah this is one of, if not my least favorite King book. Too long and boring for me. I don't know what Duma Key is about but I hope it's better. I'm actually more looking forward to his new short stories since those have been great in the past. This book? not so much.|
|12.10.10||The Second City Unscripted||Mike Thomas||An oral history of The Second City theater and brand. It's hard not to directly compare this to Live from New York, the SNL oral history. Both big time comedy brands, a ton of SNL people were involved with Second City as well, most of Second City's big names became famous on SNL, etc. But the truth is, as books, Live from New York is like twice as long and a much higher profile so a direct comparison is pretty unfair. It's been a few years since I read the SNL book but my lasting memory of it was that it was very thorough and complete and really informed me of the SNL history and process. With this book, the history seems rushed and abbreviated and there's almost no talk of the process. I guess with SNL being a tv show that I've seen and Second City being live theater that I've not seen doesn't help, but I spent most of the book wondering what the theater was actually like and what kind of work these big names did while they were there. I got interesting incite about personalities and amusing anecdotes of the old days but no clue of the actual place or work. More pictures would help.
They also... while the author got an impressive amount of people, the thing with that SNL book was that they got EVERYONE. A handful of big names are notably absent here(Bill Murray, Steve Carrell, Mike Myers, Tim Meadows) and are just talked about by other people than actually heard from.
It's still a pretty good book though and I guess if I was especially interested in SCTV I could rent the DVDs and listen to the commentaries and whatnot or things like that. For someone curious about Second City (like me) it's a good resource and it's still pretty entertaining - i'm a sucker for these oral history interview books. I just wish it was more authoritative like that SNL book...|
|12.07.05||The Good, the Bad, and Me: In My Anecdotage||Eli Wallach||Eli's book that I pretty much only read because I got it signed by him. It's a quick read filled with little anecdotes that aren't quite dramatic enough to ring false. It's always such a letdown that true real-life anecdotes don't fit perfectly into any sort of dramatic mold... they always just end or end up one critical connection shy of a really meaningful story. So it's cool that this book is just him telling little bits of what went on in his life, and it's cool that he didn't feel compelled to embellish anything in order to make them sound more profound or important. The only gripe I have with the book is that he writes pretty closely of his early career through the first 280 pages but the last 3 or 4 decades of his career he kind of wraps up in the last ten pages. I don't know if he just didn't do anything he thought was cool since 1970 or what, but it feels like it's only half a book. Maybe he wanted to get it done and out in case he croaks soon... or maybe he's working on a sequel! who knows... a pretty decent read|
|12.05.06|| Shoedog||George Pelecanos||Since I've generally enjoyed this guy's books more and more as he puts them out, I kinda thought it was just him getting better as a writer. After reading this book I'm starting to think it just took three or four books to really get into his groove and now that I am I'll enjoy all of his earlier stuff. Guess I'll find out. In any case, this short book was much better than I thought it'd be, although it does have a few problems. The biggest one is the title. It refers to the nickname of a secondary character... generally makes no sense. The guy who sells shoes is in it but he's not the main character. It's really about this drifter named Constantine. It's clear that Pelecanos likes the name because he weites it out like 80,000 times in 286 pages. There's this great epic 40-page chapter though where it details exactly what happens when a character "sees the world" for 17 years. and I really like how Pelecanos pays just as much attention to the downtime of criminal's behavior as he does to the actual crimes. Here, a Reservoir Dogs-esque group of people come together to knock over two liquor stores in a coordinated job hoping to spread the cops thin and take off with a huge score of cash. There's an interesting bit about how liquor stores are actually ghetto banks... but then the guys go out for a night of drinking and the majority of the book is Constantine going places and waiting for the time to come to rob these places. A really interesting choice I thought, especially since it proves to be just as interesting as when the crime and violence occur. I dunno, I'm not officially a fan.|
|12.04.17|| Two Kinds of Truth||Michael Connelly||Another year, another Connelly book. This one is about Bosch defending his reputation regarding a 30 year old case as well as going undercover so Connelly can talk about the opioid epidemic. I liked this one. In the last handful of books, Conelly's thrown two cases at Bosch and it's felt interesting but never really like a problem for him. Here, I really got the feeling of conflicting priorities and trying to juggle two cases that both demand full time.|
|12.04.16|| Lovecraft Country||Matt Ruff||This is a take on Lovecraftian horror turned on its ear by setting it in 1955 and featuring black protagonists. The author finds several ways to play around with the form, like having all the racist Jim Crow stuff is notably scarier than the monsters and magic and whatnot. Also, each chapter is pretty long and titled as a short story and follows a different member of this one main family and how they come into contact with this crazy stuff. The net effect feels like inter-related short stories where you have to glean the overall plot from side-arcs during each segment. I really liked this structure. In fact, I really liked the whole book. I thought it was a great take on Lovecraft, updated and contextualized and presented from a drastically different point of view. I thought it was great.|
|11.29.14|| Wolf in White Van||John Darnielle||I picked this up after hearing several recommendations. It seems like every so often Life colludes to get me to do something and I figured hearing about this on Idle Thumbs and from two of my friends currently playing my own e-mail RPG was enough to warrant reading it. It's mostly about the psyche of a disturbed man but what that disturbed man does for a living is conduct a RPG via mail (which would explain why my players would bring it up). I liked that stuff a lot because it lent a different approach to how I'm currently doing things, and some of the teenaged memories hit really close to home in terms of how I was feeling in those awkward years and how sometimes you do things without having a reason and how the things you are into take on obsessive qualities because you are struggling for your own identity... but for me the prose was a bit too "literary" (meaning unclear) and I feel like the version of this story that Danielle chose to tell ended up having to stretch to make 200 pages which is a shame because if he went somewhere else with it (say this was the first half of a larger book) and involved a tiny bit more plot then I would've engaged with it a bit more. Oh well. I can't say it's a bad book by any means, just a little too obtuse for me.|
|11.29.11||A Game of Thrones||George R. R. Martin||The show really grew on me as the first season progressed so I got the box set for my Birthday. I decided to dive in for a winter's worth of high fantasy.
I think this is the first book where I feel like the it could just about be a novelization of the movie or show. There's so few things that the show didn't represent that I could count them practically on one hand. It's really amazing, both a testament to the show's faithfullness and Martin's eye for structure and drama that the book can be translated so directly. It made for kind of weird reading though since I knew exactly what would happen and pretty much in what order. It's a good book and I like that I now have a much firmer grasp on the geography and family history of each character (I'd like to watch the first season again now to see even more how little has changed), but it was kind of like a rerun. I rushed through it to get to the second book so I could read a fresh story before the second season comes on. My guess is that as the scope of the book expands, the show will have to condense more but we'll see. I wouldn't have thought an 800-page book could be so completely portrayed on screen. Winterfell!|
|11.28.07|| King Suckerman||George Pelecanos||Liked this one quite a bit. Tons of 70s movie references (aside from actual movies referenced, one guy's called Trouble Man and another character's named Al Adamson) but also with the crime and whatnot. Pelecanos uses the 76 bicentennial fireworks the same way he uses the MLK riots in Hard Revolution. Another slow burn but surprisingly deep character and realistic plot. Great stuff.|
|11.28.06|| Science Fiction Poster Art||Tony Nourmand, Graham Marsh||I've also "read" similar books these guys did on 40s and porn poster art but since those books really only had about 5 pages of words and the rest were just posters I didn't think they warranted entries. With this one though, they kind of changed it up by including little blurbs on every page talking about either the film you're seeing posters for or the poster artist. I personally found it much more rewarding... even though the main draw is still to look at the posters, I found it interesting to learn even a small little tidbit about the artist. The film write-ups not so much... Like the world needs another 50-word blurb on 2001. anyway, as usual this is a cool coffee table book filled with interesting sci-fi posters... if i ever get a coffee table and ever get guests i'll have a revolving library of awesome books to put on it. They've also done an exploitation poster book which I think is the next one I'll pick up.|
|11.26.10|| Under the Dome||Stephen King||Third year in a row I was finishing up a long Stephen King book while in Mexico, first year I actually finished. This one was pretty huge. I liked it for the most part except for a few things:
-the bad guys get away with it for so goddamn long. I get the whole Lord of the Flies vibe and accept that it's supposed to make me uncomfortable, but for like 900 pages the bad guys do whatever they want, which leads me to
-the main antagonist doesn't get a good enough death. Part of the reason why I stuck around with the book was to see this ultimate slime get his just desserts, but it just didn't happen. His end was pretty crap.
-the very ending felt way way rushed. Couldn't scarecrow Joe at least get a kiss on the mouth from Norrie? As soon as the dome is dealt with (which I thought was pretty weak but eh, what are you gonna do... King really paints himself into a corner so I have no problem with the dome resolution because I can't think of a better way to end it even though it doesn't end all that well), all of the characters evaporate in like 5 paragraphs.
-I also had a slight problem with the map. There's only like 6 houses on the thing, so how are there a couple thousand people in the dome? the geography took me a while to understand, which is why I thought there was a map to begin with.
All in all a pretty good book, although I feel like the balance of victories vs failures for the good guys isn't enough to make me ever want to read it again. Still though, King is writing in top form here and it was a good read.|
|11.26.06||The Concrete Blonde||Michael Connelly||Another Harry Bosch book down... this one is like half courtroom drama half murder investigation. It actually pleasantly surprised me with its lack of false suicides and bosses that turn out to be homicidal maniacs. good book.|
|11.26.05||The Colorado Kid||Stephen King||From a 1090 page King book to a 190 page King book, the Colorado Kid is a short but sweet mystery tale published by Hard Case Crime in pulpy trade paperback form, complete with a mail-in subscription card inserted halfway through. It's a story about the messiness of real-life mystery and how most stories do not wrap up clean and tidy in 44 minutes. It's a fast read and pretty good, but the central dead body of the piece is basically Laura Palmer. I could not get the image of Palmer's blue face wrapped in plastic on that pacific northwest beach out of my mind for this entire story... It's not as odd as Twin Peaks, but I think the same immediate curiosity drives both stories.|
|11.25.18||The Man Who Came Uptown||George Pelecanos||I tore through this one. Pelecanos' prose and characters are so masculine yet so authentic and earnest. Here, he's clearly pulling on his experience with teaching in jails and puts his love for books on full display. Not only is this book great, it makes you want to read like four, five other books. Plus even though you're dearly rooting for his protagonists, the sense of real world danger and evil is every present, threatening to invade (something Stephen King is also great at). I also love his take on an antagonist here as someone who was mostly good but just let that moral compass veer a little off course. I've never really experienced that before and the mixture / confusion of his actions was really fun to read. With such a lean book, there's a lot being said here but it also creeps with the deliberate speed that I love about Pelecanos's work. I couldn't put this one down; one of my favorites of his for sure.|
|11.24.17|| Sleeping Beauties||Stephen King, Owen King||Stephen King and his son imagine what would happen if all the women of the world suddenly disappeared. As with a lot of King stories, the real horror comes from the bad characters slipping away from justice and getting up to no good. the supernatural aspect is really just there to justify the premise of the book. In that regard, it seems terribly arbitrary and bothered me throughout the book because you never really know what Evie's deal is. What I did like is the structure of the book where you meet a bunch of characters right up front, not really knowing why we're spending any time with them until Part 2, where the book takes focus. By the time you get to the climax, you're pretty invested with the good guys and truly hate the bad guys. However - and maybe this is just me knowing King's age - I never felt true danger. Even though the bad guys felt bad, I knew that King would eventually punish them somehow. The days of endings like Cujo and Pet Sematary are long gone. So in the end I didn't really love this one. There was a long way to go before things picked up.|
|11.23.05|| It||Stephen King||So what have I been reading for the past three months? Stephen King's IT: the first really adult book I ever read. It also started my eventual path to reading all of King's stuff but since I read this one so early and had such an obsession with it I always held this up as my favorite of his. So, not wanting to spend any more money on books for a while, I picked this up and decided to re-read it to see how much I remembered and if it still got under my skin like it did when I was 12 or whatever... It was most surprising to me that certain things that have always stuck in my mind about the book were actually just single sentences buried deep in random chapters; things that i thought were like major points of the book were just throwaway references or something like that. My biggest memories of the book were all like that...
Another big surprise with this book is that King tells you everything that happens before it actually happens. He'll mention something once or twice in passing then get around to writing about it maybe a hundred pages later, so the net effect is that this book is not a page-turner like The Stand but more of an atmospheric character piece. I think it's designed to take a long time to read so you feel like you actually live with these kids and hang out with them. It's the perfect book to read when you want to spend a few months not buying any more books.
When I was a kid I was obsessed with this book. When it came out and my mom read it, I would constantly ask her to tell me what's happening in the part she was at. The little green claw coming out of the sewer grabbing the paper boat on the front cover completely grabbed me as well and I was astonished at this huge insurmountable mountain of reading. I remember thinking when I read it the first time that there was no actual green claw anywhere in the book and that kind of pissed me off. There was a few sex scenes though which I didn't mind at all.
So how does it stack up today now that I've read the rest of his stuff? I still love it. I have the crappy TV miniseries at the top of my netflix queue because I want to see it again. I still remembered all the characters first and last names but was pleasantly surprised to find a whole layer of things that I either forgot or missed or wasn't mature enough to understand the first time around. Yeah, I think it's still my favorite of his, followed by 'salem's Lot and maybe Pet Sematary. Dig it.|
|11.21.18|| Dark Sacred Night||Michael Connelly||Harry Bosch meets Renee Ballard. I liked this one pretty good but it definitely felt like comfort food. I do wonder when and if Bosch's journey will ever end. i appreciate that he's aging in real time and the series as a whole has taken on an epic scale for a couple decades of growth and casework. I like that he's old now and Connelly's trying on new characters to perhaps take up the mission. Otherwise though, it's kind of just another case, just another series of events. It's remarkably easy to read and engaging through so I'm not really complaining... These are always fun to read every year.|
|11.20.09|| Duma Key||Stephen King||I've never read any of the classic russian authors that a lot of people talk about, but from what I've heard about them (how they are long and the first halves are a real chore to get through but then they turn and really grip you and end up being very satisfying reads) seems very apt to this one.
My memories of Lisey's Story are that it was long and that it got a little better as it went on but not much and mostly it was just King trying to prove that he can write female characters. The length, along with publisher's new idea of printing new mass market paperbacks in a taller dimension and a premise which did not immediately grab me, immediately lumped that book with this one... i.e. something that would be more of a completionist's chore than an active enjoyment. And for the first 400 or so pages that's just what it was. Certain areas of King's style have now grown pretty old with me after 40-however-many books. His little new words or his repeating interior
or his joyful diction of soulful old black ladies are all things that I'm kind of over. And there's plenty of that here all throughout, but there are also the King mainstays that I suspect everyone still gets a kick out of: conversationally light prose, ease and depth of character, and most of all the ability to make a character doing anything - no matter how banal - interesting. Then there's also the horror, which I think stopped scaring me a long time ago but now just impresses me with his ideas and executions.
So, yeah... there's really no horror in the first two thirds of this book. If the last 200 pages had been chopped off, this would've been a story about a guy who gets in an accident and discovers that he has talent as an artist. Which would've been fine I guess if not a bit light on tension. And that's how the first two thirds reads... At first I resisted a bit because nothing (at all) was happening, but then I fell in line and started enjoying the success this guy was having with his awakening talent. of course there were obtuse intimations of something supernatural going on but... whatever. It's all wrapped up in the artist's mystique, right?
But then it was like King literally opened the flood gates. "Thanks for slogging through 600 pages, Constant Reader, I will now reward you with 200 page-turners to burn your fingers as you stay up way too late trying to sprint to my afterthoughts after the last chapter." I know there's some definite intention with the pacing of the book now so it's hard for me to go on about my frustrations with the slow start.
With both this book and Lisey's Story (I also see that his new one is 1,000 pages), I think King is now in a mode where he sits down every day and writes and writes and writes until it's good. If it's not good now, add another hundred pages and check again. That's not necessarily a bad thing... it just makes for a bit more of an investment and a bit more trust put in with King at the start of each of his books.
Honestly, I was starting to think King was hitting another slump post Dark Tower as he did in the late 80s/early 90s but this book has redeemed him for me and now I'm excited to read his short story collection and eventually Under The Dome (when it comes out in paperback... can't be lugging that brick with me to work every day).|
|11.17.07||The Big Blowdown||George Pelecanos||Really liked this one. It's period (40s) DC and a much larger scale than his other books. The main guy goes to war and another dude comes to DC from rural pennsylvania and whatnot. It's a little weird knowing the following three book involve a character who's just a baby in this one (probably giving it much more of a prequel vibe than it deserves since it came first) but whatever. Really liked it.
It's still just a tad pat. I don't like how they have to know who the prostitute murderer is but whatever. It's part of the progression in his work so that's cool.
I should also mention how much Shoedog's grown in my mind. Such a great book. This is up there though. I definitely liked this one more than his first three and his first three Derek Strange books... good stuff. Can't wait to read the next three.|
|11.16.15|| Slimed: An Oral History of Nickelodeon's Golden Age||Mathew Klickstein||I'm typically a fan of oral histories so I thought it would be fun to hit the nostalgia centers of my brain and learn about the Nick shows I used to watch as well as the development of the channel itself. So I kind of knew that the sections that dealt with shows I never watched would be less interesting to me but I was kind of disappointed by other aspects of this book. For one, there is zero context. Those paragraphs that set up the next batch of interview snippets that let's you know what the hell they're talking about? gone. Also, the chapters are structured more thematically than chronologically so everyone interviewed for the book talks all the time. I recognized maybe 5 names out of the 200 or whatever in the book and couldn't be bothered to keep checking the back to find out who they were, so a lot of the time I wasn't sure who was talking about what show when. If the book was structured more around each show or each year or something I could've had a better handhold on what they were talking about, but for me a lot of this book was kind of a jumbled mess. That said, the parts where I could Identify that they were talking about shows I watched (You Can't Do That on Television, Double Dare, Ren & Stimpy, Hey Dude) I liked very much. But I watched a ton of Nick at Nite and would've liked to have learned more about how that came about, TV Land... and also they talked a tiny bit about the branding and marketing of the channel itself but it would've been cool to hear more about the circumstances of how it all happened. In the end, the book was just ok. I was hoping for more.|
|11.15.12||The Wind Through the Keyhole||Stephen King||King's afterthought of a Dark Tower book. It's a bit of a story within a story within a story and the nesting egg structure makes me feel like it might have been cooler if the book was somehow presented as separate short stories or maybe even that the actual Wind Through the Keyhole story itself was just a novella in the next story collection that he releases. But oh well, it's still new story in the Dark Tower universe and as such is pretty good. That it's mostly either a flashback to Roland's younger days or a fairy tale taking place before Roland was even around is even better since it shares flavors of Wizard and Glass which I thought was excellent. Again, it would've been cool to include the Little Sisters of Eluria in this though and have it be more of a Dark Tower Stories book but whatever. Still good, still great writing. Doesn't add a bit to the canon but who says it has to.|
|11.15.08||The Turnaround||George Pelecanos||I'd imagine it's pretty hard to follow up on a breakout hit. This is not The Night Gardener but it's defintiely a Pelecanos book. It's pretty light on plot but - as always - very nuanced with character and rigid with Pelecanos' direct style and point of view. I wouldn't say this is the first book of his I'd recommend to others (that's turned out to be Shoedog) but it's definitely one I enjoyed quite a bit. It fits well with his other non-serial books and -again, as always - manages to go from sluggish whats-going-on-here to frantic page turning with little to no effort.|
|11.14.13||The Double||Geroge Pelecanos||My favorite crime author gives me another book, this one the second in his new Spero Lucas series. I was a bit hesitant when I read The Cut because I've traditionally liked Pelecanos' one-offs more than the ongoing-protagonist stuff likeDerek Strange and Nick Stefanos. I liked The Cut though because Lucas has some edge to him that I feel like most protagonists are too PC for nowadays. With this book it looks like Pelecanos is exploring that territory more and talking about PTSD and taking care of our returning military in the same breath. Stefanos had alcohol as an enemy and I think that's probably what set him apart back when those books were published; I feel like Lucas' wartime demons are really prescient and interesting and I'm on board to see where Pelecanos goes with him. I also dig that Pelecanos shares my tastes in 70s movies a bit and it's my hunch that the Billy King character in this book is based on actor William Smith, specifically in the movie Darker than Amber. If i ever meet the man I'll ask him then update this to gloat about how right I was. So... I liked this a lot. I did notice one detail where he mentioned someone living in his parents' basement in Galveston which rang false (I doubt there's a basement anywhere in Texas) but nobody's perfect... Pelecanos' knowledge of the mid-atlantic is unquestionable. I can't wait for the next one!|
|11.12.06||The Black Ice||Michael Connelly||The second Michael Connelly book... another faked suicide. sigh. It's not a bad book... i'll probably remember this one as the one where he goes down to mexico at the end... they are just kind of light reading for me though.|
|11.04.18|| Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeon Master's Guide||Various||Fifth Edition. So now i've had two sessions running my spooky Halloween adventure. It's going slower than I thought but I'm overprepared and having a lot of fun (I think my players are too). Without the promise of playing more after this "one shot" is over, finishing this rulebook began to feel a bit like a fool's errand, since what's the difference if I don't read through a hundred pages of magic items if I never use them? I did anyway. I find it incredibly cool that they sources artwork for almost all of those magic items by the way. Overall, I liked this one a lot more than I thought I would. Going into it, I sort of thought it would be a collection of optional rules that I'd never use, but along the way there was a ton of useful stuff. Even if I never use them, the random dungeon and loot and magic item tables are a super useful resource to have. Mostly, I'm impressed with the design of this edition. It feels like what I thought 2E was when I was in high school but was actually too young/stupid to comprehend how crunchy it should've been. Speaking of, I never in a million years actually read the old DMG that I had. Mostly I just looked at the pictures.
Although I own Volo's, Xanathar's, Mordenkainen's, and the Monster Manual, I feel like this is the last one I'll be reading cover to cover (unless circumstances change, like I start DM-ing a regular game). It was very fun though, diving back into this world and scratching the itch that's been building for years.|
|11.02.13|| Doctor Sleep||Stephen King||King's sequel to The Shining. I liked this one a lot, although I feel like King's books aren't even really horror anymore. Yes there are supernatural elements in this that set it apart from mainstream drama or whatever but... is it even supposed to be scary? I'm not sure. It didn't stop me from liking it, but spending so much time in the antagonists' mindspace gave them an interesting and confusing sympathy that kind of muddles any creepiness they may hold. It would be like if there were five chapters in 'salem's Lot about what Barlow was thinking. It was nice to revisit Danny Torrance though and also fitting to read King cover Alcoholics Anonymous in the story of perhaps his most famous alcoholic character's son.|
|10.29.11|| Full Dark, No Stars||Stephen King||Another book of novellas. Typical quality for King's recent work. Good, harsh, dark. I feel like with his short stories he has less of a pull to inject twists and turns in the story so a few of them end up feeling surprisingly straight-forward. I remember thinking the same thing about one of the stories in his last collection (the one with the running girl). Big Driver goes exactly where you think it will go, but that's not a bad thing because it's also where you want it to go. Same with 1922 and Fair Extension. I guess really all the stories. Anyway, I enjoyed the book although it definitely twitched my horror nerve. Some of the stuff that happens makes you feel kind of dirty. King starts his Afterward by saying these stories are harsh. I agree.|
|10.27.08|| Snuff||Chuck Palahniuk||This one... well.... it's alright. reading his initial writing workshop essays on his website years ago has really pulled back the veil on his style for me. It's kind of like writing by numbers now. Although it's still enjoyable, it's kind of easy to dissect. On the other hand, he throws in a hodgepodge of interesting factoids and his differing points of view are alright (not as subtle or layered as Pelecanos but whatever) and he obviously had some fun coming up with Porn titles (although do they really do that stuff anymore? I thought titles today were a little more... blatant). Anyway, an ok read for sure, but the excitement and freshness I got out of Palahniuk's first gaggle of books is pretty much over and there was no building surprise of depth like his last book.|
|10.26.15|| Finders Keepers||Stephen King||A sequel to Mr. Mercedes but to me it really feels like the second in a trilogy. I say that knowing that the final book will be published next year so that could be where it comes from but also... the story feels very episodic to me. The main characters from Mr. Mercedes are not the main characters here and really only come into the picture in the second half of the book. Certainly they don't drive the narrative. Which is fine. I think this is King trying his hand at a Michael Connelly book. It's not quite a mystery but it is a non-supernatural thriller with an ex-cop protagonist. It's kind of neat that King has written so many books that he's willing to branch out and write 3 books in a certain vein just because he feels like it. Maybe it's because he has enough fans like me who will read anything he puts out that will follow him on his journey. I don't really know how to look up book sales but I can't imagine his books failing to sell.
Anyway, I liked this one ok. The structure kind of threw me at first because I was expecting a more straight-up sequel but I think in the end I liked it about the same as Mercedes in that they held my interest but aren't close to my favorite King books (or even favorite recent King books).|
|10.26.07|| I'm A Lebowski, You're A Lebowski||Bill Green, Ben Peskoe, WIll Russell, Scott Shuffitt||Put together by the guys who organize the Lebowski Fest, this is kind of a fan's companion to the movie. I picked it up because I saw that it has interviews with all the major actors (and some minor ones too) as well as real life inspirations like Jeff Dowd and John Milius. About a third of the book is fanboy filler like a Dude glossary and the book of Duderotomy and meaningless stuff like that, but ultimately I found it worth reading for the short interviews from all involved.
It's nowhere near as comprehensive or detailed as the other Big Lebowski book (which is amazing), but it's fun nonetheless if you're a fan of the movie.|
|10.24.12|| Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto||David Kushner||The Masters of Doom guy writes about Rockstar Games and the GTA series. The book also followed Jack Thompson and his crusade, both leading to the Hot Coffee incident and its aftermath.
It's a decent book, if not a tiny bit sensational just like Masters of Doom was. I found a lot of details interesting but also definitely on the outside. You can really tell that Rockstar didn't cooperate with this book specifically and that all of the author's quotes are pulled from previous interviews. There's a lot of "...he said later" involved.
But whatever. I got to find out just a little bit more about how Rockstar works, how essential the Houser brothers really were in the cultivation of one of my favorite game series, and got a little insight into their culture. Worth reading for that.|
|10.22.06|| Hollywood Babylon II||Kenneth Anger||the sequel to the great Hollywood Babylon, this one coming out in the 80s. It's a really thin sequel of a book... it feels like he wrote a whole book just so he can get two or three chapters out into the world (Reagan-hating, cocaine-hating, and Liz Taylor is fat). There's also so many pictures that I bet, if boiled down to just text, a good 40% of the actual writing in the book would be found in the monster 70-page chapter on Hollywood suicides, which reads less like salacious prose than dry ledger accounts of who died by what. Sure some of the pictures are good, and they all share that trademark Holly Baby unflattery, but for the most part the book feels like an attempt at more money.|
|10.20.08|| Good Days and Mad||Dick DeBartolo||A great find for 4 bucks at a discount book store; this is basically a kinda-sorta history of Mad Magazine wrapped up as a tribute to Mad's head geek William M. Gaines and a biographical memoir of Dick DeBartolo, "Mad's maddest writer." This was a very enjoyable foray back into my childhood and the one summer or year or however long it was that I discovered Mad Magazine at either a book store or a comic shop and managed to strike a mother lode of used issues dating back who knows how long. I absolutely fell in love with the magazine even though a lot of the stuff really went over my head (both because the current issues dealt with stuff above my pay grade and the older issues made references to "current events" that I didn't know or care anything about. I do know that Spy vs. Spy was my fave and the fold-ins, Don Martin's stuff, Sergio Aragones' work, and all the movie parodies really cracked - oops, i mean broke - me up. So having this whole book written by the guy who wrote all those movie parodies is great because it's filled with the kind of cheap gags, goofy humor, and knuckle-brained buffoonery that I remember so fondly from the magazine. It also has enough pictures, artwork, album covers, and article reprints to shake the memories loose and on top of it all it's a decent portrait of the eccentric life of William M. Gaines. Pretty damn cool.
It was a little weird though, since I read it in 2008 and it was written in 96 or whatever. Whenever he mentions things like how Mad still doesn't have advertising or how such and such still contributes, it sounds pretty awesome until I check wiki and learn that ads started running in 99 and such and such died in 03. I guess that's fitting though, since my first exposure to the magazine was through dusty browned back issues bought for a quarter to read this book a decade late as well. Still a very fun read and a wonderful trip down memory lane.|
|10.19.07|| All I Need To Know About Filmmaking I Learned From The Toxic Avenger||Lloyd Kaufman, James Gunn||Really more of a Kaufman autobio than a how-to book on low-budget filmmaking, it's still quite an enjoyable read (especially if you have any history or love for Troma at all). It really put me in the mood to revisit a lot of their films (Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke Em High) and finally sit down and watch a few others I've never gotten around to (Tromeo & Juliet, Redneck Zombies, BLoodsucking Freaks).
Pretty funny book.|
|10.16.16||The Shining Girls||Lauren Beukes||Another sci-fi type thriller, this one where a serial killer travels through time to find his victims. I think what made this good is Beukes' attention to detail with the victims' lives. They are all interesting women spread across the last 100 years or so and you spend just enough time with them to get a nice sense of character. I liked this one pretty good.|
|10.16.10|| Early Hollywood||Marc Wanamaker, Robert W. Nudelman||A photo book of very early hollywood compiled by some dudes from a hollywood museum or something like that. Reading through is actually very much like wandering through an exhibit reading the captions next to each photograph: very interesting in the beginning, kind of exhausting and boring by the end. The book is actually pretty cool with the amount of very early development of the city, but since I don't live there I had an ongoing confusion of the geography. I could've done with a few maps or something showing the relation of each photo. And now that I'm griping, the book could also be in large format to allow for more detail in the photos but oh well. All in all a small but interesting diversion. It's pretty crazy how quickly the town grew from large expansive ranchero scrub land to thriving city full of landmmarks. It's also interesting to see that while some buildings have survived, just as many were demolished in the 50s and 60s as the 80s and 90s. With so much development going on, it's kind of a wonder that anything survives at all. It's cool that they do though... I particularly loved seeing various landmark buildings 10 or 20 years later so you see them shiny and new then you see them again weather-stained and dreary. Fun book.|
|10.12.12||The Book of Drugs||Mike Doughty||I was a huge Soul Coughing fan in college and still am today. I'm revisiting Mike Doughty's solo stuff as I read this memoir of his. I'm kind of soaked in Doughty at the moment. I even wrote him a fan letter although I doubt I'll send it. Anyway...
The book is very well written and really promotes page-turning. True all the anecdotes are about him but that's how every memoir goes. He talks A LOT about Soul Coughing which is really why I wanted to read it. In interviews and live youtube clips he presents a very negative reaction to the band and the songs that a lot of people really love. Reading the book gives a very deep telling of his perspective about the band, his band-mate's personalities, and how the songs were ultimately compromised. I don't really care I still love them. I like some of his solo stuff a lot as well but it's different. It was a good read although... I mean... I guess this whole "I did this drug, then I went here and did that drug, then I screwed her while doing this drug, then I wound up there doing that drug" thing is a genre unto itself!? I now feel like I was pretty harsh on Chris Connelly's book because he did the same thing (witch much less outside of the drugs) but now I'm kind of getting the sense that I could read a lot of books very similar to this if I wanted to. I'm glad I'm not a junkie. Of course even if I were my life would still be much less interesting than either of those dudes, but whatever.
On the whole, I liked this book. It does change a few things about how I see Soul Coughing, but oh well.|
|10.11.11|| Club Kids: From Speakeasies to Boombox and Beyond||Black Dog Publishing||I bought this on impulse at Half Price Books because it looked to be mostly a history of night clubs that I thought would hook in nicely to that DJ book I read a while ago (Last Night A DJ Saved My Life) and it looked like it had lots of pictures. For the most part, the book has been pretty disappointing although perhaps I just had the wrong expectations.
The first half was indeed a history of night clubs and I found that part interesting. A lot of the pictures were not necessarily of the club in question but evoked similar feels. Still, it was interesting. The last half though, is mostly about these contemporary fashion designers and DJs and club promoters that I've never heard of and are mostly from London. At this point it becomes very obvious that this book was published in London and is very much for locals... or something. So the last half really dragged for me as it was basically profiles and interviews of people that I had no context of talking about things I'd never heard of before. Some of it ended up being educational, a lot of it never took. Again, What I wanted from the book I got in condensed form in the first half, so I don't know that it's the book's fault that I didn't enjoy the second half (i mean, the damn thing's called CLUB KIDS, hello!?), but that doesn't mean I enjoyed it.
Oh well, moving on.|
|10.10.10|| Pirate Latitudes||Michael Crichton||I was initially pretty wary of this book since "finished manuscripts" discovered after the author's death rarely represent something he was probably comfortable releasing to the public (hence not publishing it whenever he wrote it, you know?) and the last two or three Crichton novels have been lackluster for me...
This book is a lot of fun. It's unapologetically straight-forward in it's popcorn intentions. There's enough of that Crichton research of what daily life was probably like back in circa-1665 New World but mostly it's a rolicking pirate adventured filled with shallow yet interesting characters, lots of tension and action, and real page-turning prose.
About half-way through, the book becomes almost too much of what it is. it seems like every pirate cliche and trope is brought out in quick succession and dealt with quickly so by the end I had a feeling like maybe i had just read a sampler of a dozen longer pirate books rather than just one, but it ties together nicely and the first half is great.
Crichton at his best is just like reading a movie. It's so cinematic and exhilarating... he really was a master of pacing and momentum and i could easily see this as a somewhat more intelligent take on Pirates of the Carribean (perhaps that franchise's success caused him to shelf this? who knows) and to be honest I'd rather see this movie than a fourth Johnny Depp film but whatever.
Great fun to read. I couldn't put it down. And such a pleasant surprise from Crichton, who had some of the best books I read in high school. This is a great final novel for me... much better than Prey or Next.|
|10.07.13|| Night Film||Marisha Pessl||A mystery/semi-thriller about an investigative journalist on the trail of a reclusive mysterious underground film director upon his daughter's apparent suicide.
The book really starts off great. There's a multimedia approach where they include webpages and newspaper clippings and other forms of composition throughout as well as playing a bit with the layout (lots of black-background pages for instance) that keeps things fresh and draws you in.
The last act gets pretty esoteric though and I found myself slogging through parts. The ending is... fine I guess but I personally found it a bit anticlimactic. I definitely liked the first half more than the last half.
So it's no Flicker or House of Leaves but it's still a pretty good read and I'm glad I read it.|
|10.07.09|| Cesar's Way||Cesar Millan||notes later|
|10.05.17|| Easy Go||John Lange||Here we go, this is exactly what I want from a young Michael Crichton writing pulp novels! Set in Egypt, a Rogue's gallery goes about a secret expedition to find a hidden tomb - the last tomb of the pharoahs! It still has some of that coy romance machismo that doesn't feel right in Crichton's voice, but this one is chock full of interesting Egypt ephemera and information, nice pacing, exotic adventure, and satisfying close. A Super fun read. Yes, the characters are more or less cardboard cutouts with names, but whatever... that was never his strong suit. I see direct ties between this and Dragon Teeth... I feel like this is his first glint of gold in the pan of what would eventually become a major mining operation.|
|10.05.06||The Black Echo||Michael Connelly||You'd think that since I've only read two of this guy's books that I wouldn't run into him re-using the same twists... but oh well. This was ok... largely just kind of page-turning comfort food but there's some nam stuff in here that's good and a really downer ending that's typically noirish. It's still less stylized than Ellroy and way less authentic than Pelecanos but oh well...|
|10.04.12|| 11/22/63||Stephen King||Finally tackled this behemoth about a guy who goes back in time to save Kennedy. It's so long because practically every minute of his time travel is described.
I liked it ok. I mean at this point I'm not sure Stephen King can write a book that I downright hate. Even the books like Blaze and Cell are really well-written and have an expert sense of flow. But I didn't really love this one either. The large romance part of it was nice but there's this huge plot device hanging over every page and I really couldn't see it going more than one way. For the most part anyway, so when it came time to do the duty, any tension was kind of deflated for me.
Still, with a book this big there's plenty to like. His description of the past is as vivid as can be, and he throws in tons of little touches reminding us how it was better back then. For the most part anyway.
He managed to avoid a lot of the logic traps usually associated with time travel until the end and even then it was a nice way to think of things that could've been way less interesting.
I liked it.|
|10.04.10|| 9 Dragons||Michael Connelly||Harry Bosch goes to Hong Kong. Not quite as good as The Scarecrow in my opinion, but still quite gripping, excellently paced and smartly constructed thriller. It seems like the actual case mystery is truncated and convenient because Connelly used his page budget for the stuff with Bosch's daughter. On the one hand I admire his consistency - pretty much every one of his books is ~450 pages I believe - but on the other, this could've had a bit longer third act maybe. Oh well, still a good read.|
|10.02.08|| How I Conquered Your Planet||John Swartzwelder||A funny little book written by the veteran Simpson's writer. I'm generally not a fan of "humor fiction" because mostly the story makes no sense just so it can be clever or whatever and it's really hard for me to laugh out loud from reading something. This got several "heh"s from me which is pretty good. Basically, the story is told from the first person perspective of someone about as smart as Homer Simpson but a little meaner. He inadvertently helps martians conquer Earth, which is pretty funny.
The book was a fun read but I'm glad it's as short as it is (150 small large-type pages). Too much longer and it would've gone to tedious. As such though, it was pretty good. I'm glad I got a sample of what Swartzwelder's novels are like. It makes complete sense that this came from the same brain as those classic crazy Simpsons episodes that he wrote.|
|09.30.07||A Darkness More Than Night||Michael Connelly||Terry McCaleb investigated Harry Bosch and Jack McEvoy is also there. This is kind of like a mother tie-in episode between Connelly's non-bosch books (not that I've read Void Moon). I figured it would be good to read this right after Blood Work.
I think it's one of the weaker plots I've read in his books. It makes no sense that any killer would leave subtle clues to the painter sharing his name. So for like 60% of this book I was just whatever. I also think it doesn't work becasue we already know Harry Bosch and know he is not a killer. Sure he's on the edge and dark like every mystery protagonist but... not a killer and we know that.
However, I do think this would make a great movie. Clint Eastwood reprising Terry McCaleb and introducing the character of Harry Bosch to movie audiences who DON'T know him. They'd still have to fix the plot points a bit but from that perspective I think the movie could really work.
Too bad that's not happening.|
|09.28.16|| Dark Matter||Blake Crouch||I haven't read any of Crouch's other stuff (like Wayward Pines), but this was pretty good. Kind of a sci-fi thriller exploring the premise of Schrodinger's Cat and the multiverse. I feel like it played by the rules it set up nicely, never took a shortcut or cheated me, never talked down to me, and gave me a satisfying ending which is quite remarkable given the premise. I especially liked the third act and how he deals with all the other hims. Sometimes I was ahead of the book, other times the book was ahead of me. Good stuff.|
|09.28.09||The Brass Verdict||Michael Connelly||Flew through this one. It's good. The only bad thing I have to say is that the familial revelation at the end seemed pretty tacked on. Otherwise, excellent read.|
|09.24.08|| World War Z||Max Brooks||This book thoughtfully posits the question "What if zombies were real?" Basically, every "interview subject" (the book is written as an oral history) represents another idea in how Earth would react to a sudden zombie threat. Some of it is pretty expected (like people panicking, a military response, treating it like a virus, etc.) and some of it's pretty damn ingenious (like the submarine battles, space observation, Quislings). Brooks also extends these hypotheticals into geopolitical ramifications to good effect as well as interesting byproducts like ecological disaster due to everyone buring wood fires or kids not playing on the beach anymore. Overall it's a great ready especially if you're into zombies and thinking about those kinds of "what if" scenarios (Just like the comic... that was sweet). On nearly every page I had a "huh" moment where I thought about what I was reading and deduced "yeah, I can see that happening." Great book.|
|09.22.16|| Harry Potter and the Cursed Child||J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne||It's a bit much making such fanfare over a script, but I understand that any new Harry Potter content is big news and, hey, I'm guilty of picking this up so I guess it worked.
I'm kind of curious how they pull off some of this stuff on stage. Like the hogwarts staircases and bookcases pulling them in and stuff. I'm sure there's some disappointing guy-in-a-suit execution.
Story-wise, I spent most of the "book" a little upset by how closely it was following Back to the Future Part 2. The characters of Albus and especially Scorpius seem shallow and annoying. And everyone keeps making dumb choices.
Luckily, the very end I thought was interesting enough to redeem some things, but not enough to forgive everything. All the Pottermore stuff I'm pretty conflicted about. The seven books stand alone in my opinion. They work on a story level but they also do a great job of getting more mature as Harry does. If your kid read the first book when they were Harry's age, by the time the last book came out they were a young adult and the series progressed with them. This play seems like a step backward to Book 2 or something. Tonally, it doesn't fit.|
|09.20.15||The Martian||Andy Weir||I wanted to read this before the movie came out, especially when I learned that it was screening a few days early during Fantastic Fest. As it turns out, I didn't have any trouble finishing it in time because it's really damn good. Weir explains science in a great understandable way and he funnels all of the technical detail through a character with wit. Consequently, this comes off like a great Crichton novel used to in that you feel like you're learning real stuff while reading a sci-fi story. I definitely got the sense of what it would be like to hang out on mars. I really liked this one.|
|09.20.11||The Reversal||Michael Connelly||The latest Connelly (in paperback) is a Mickey Haller/Harry Bosch collaboration. It flip flops chapters between 1st person Haller and 3rd person Bosch perspectives. As usual, Connelly is a master of plot and pacing. The last half of the book flew bye.
What I found most interesting about this book was the ending. Spoiler alert!
So I kept expecting a twist. He laid some seeds of doubt in the reader earlier on but mostly the climax goes too smoothly. You know, just because you're reading a legal thriller, that SOMETHING has to happen, and something does indeed happen but it's completely opposite of what I thought it would be then the very ending, rather than having everything nicely tied up, deflates into a series of guesses and loose ends that feels remarkably authentic. It's a really great way to end the book and reminds me why I like stuff like this, Pelecanos' work, and the The Wire. I ate this book up.|
|09.19.06|| Spike, Mike, Slackers, & Dykes||John Pierson||Since the guy was kind enough to meet with me, I figured I needed to read his book. It's an interesting account of Independant film from 1984 to 94, starting with Stranger Than Paradise and ending with Pulp Fiction... although mostly he focuses on films he had personal contact with (She's Gotta Have It, Roger & Me, Slacker, Clerks, etc.)... pretty candid, filled with producers rep-y details and a general insight into the rise of indie film fests, indie distributors, and the trends of the decade. It's doubly interesting for me because it was at this time that I was waking up to films and started reading Premiere and stuff... Of course I never heard about these movies until... I think my neighbor insisted that i go to this video store i never usually went to to rent Slacker... but it was right around this time that I really started to get into movies and stuff like Sex Lies, Rservoir Dogs, Clerks... I remember all of them being buzzed and coming on video and seeing them... so it was interesting to read how the industry was during that time that I've always associeated just as a general movement and being the lowest rung of the consumer ladder for... Good book.|
|09.18.16|| Before the Fall||Noah Hawley||From the writer/EP of TV's Fargo... I wish this wasn't marketed as a thriller because there are really no thrills, but instead it's kind of a dissection of a disaster revisited through different points of view. Closer to a mystery kind of, in that you peel back the onion of what happened as the book progresses. I dunno, it was good but it felt kind of cold and clinical. Some of the POVs I bought more than others. All in all i liked it ok, although I do wish I wasn't expecting things to pick up at some point.|
|09.16.09||The Lincoln Lawyer||Michael Connelly||It's been a while since I've plowed through a Connelly book. I was waiting on this for The Brass Verdict to hit paperback since I knew the main character in this meets Harry Bosch in Verdict and want to read them consecutively.
This is definitely the most courtroomy of Connelly's books... the first half is surprisingly slow but the second half really picked up and ended up being very satisfying. Connelly's style is still very yarny and sometimes borders on too much corn (as compared to Pelecanos' bittersweet reality) but as an archetypal crime mystery novel I think Connelly's at the top. Even with unbelievable names, his characters are taut and rich enough and react off one another like marbles scrambling away from hungry hungry hippos. He's also written some of the most readable books I've ever read. Can't wait to dive into Brass Verdict after taking such an extended vacation from his stuff.|
|09.15.10|| Blockade Billy||Stephen King||A small book with two long-ish short stories. As always, King's writing seems effortless and presents a strong voice. I liked both stories but found the second, titled "Morality" particularly distrubing. Maybe it's because i'm in a steady relationship now and therefore vulnerable to thoughts of said relationships failing but this one was pretty dirty in how quickly things fall apart and how little it takes for that to happen. Blockade Billy is less disturbing than a fun exercise in language and old-time baseball lingo. Both good stories though and a perfect antithesis to the Sookie books i've been going through. Next up is something a bit more substantial.|
|09.10.10|| Dead as a Doornail||Charlaine Harris||The... fifth(?) Sookie book. This is the one where... oh yeah, a sniper is shooting shifters, then they have the werewolf pack election or whatever. This one seems even more transitory and episodic than the last. Not even episodic, more like meandering. there's no central plot at all, just following sookie around day in and day out. I won't deny that they are quick reads and i'll probably come back and finish the series at some point (perhaps next summer when True Blood returns) but I think it's time for a break. Plus a woman at work can't remember which is which either so she inadvertantly spoils things by asking "Is this the one where his wife dies?" ugh.
Anyway, I liked this about as much as I liked books 3 and 4. I suspect book 2 will end up being my favorite although I have no clue why. I guess this is good genre writing just like Michael Connelly or Nora Roberts, but for whatever reason I connect with Connelly more at this point. I don't feel it transcends like Pelecanos or Ellroy, although I might read Ellroy's latest next and have different thoughts about that. We'll see.|
|09.09.11|| Mockingjay||Suzanne Collins||Final book in the trilogy. I guess it'd be hard for the series to end any way that's ultimately satisfying, considering that the second book painted the third into such a corner that certain big plot events sort of HAVE to happen, but I think there were enough twists thrown in there to make the pages turn almost as fast as the first two books. It's always sad to see characters die off as the main character's circle of friends peel off one by one to leave her alone at the climax. Collins also pulled the "nega" trick where, in order to keep a character interesting, you make them turn evil for whatever reason so time is spent undo-ing that mess. i dunno, I still chugged through this book at full pace so it's hard to say anything too bad, but something about the ultimate resolution of the story kind of doesn't sit right with me. The love triangle, built up over the trilogy, kind of fizzles out rather than exploding at the end. In fact, much of the end is kind of confusing since the main character's supposed to be going through mental turmoil and the story's told from her perspective. I feel like the second book suffers a little bit since she's so in the dark for the whole thing and the third book suffers because so much time is spent on her wishy-washy pain. Both are necessary I guess, but I feel like if Collins wasn't so limited to perspective, we could've spent some time with more characters to shed light on different areas while Katniss was off healing or whatever.
In any case, I really enjoyed the whole trilogy and was kinda sad to finish this. I deliberately held off on starting the next book just to let these characters live on a little more in my mind before becoming movie versions or whatever. Good books.|
|09.06.15|| Armada||Ernest Cline||So... I was not expecting this to be as good as Ready Player One, but I was hoping that it would be fun and entertaining. I didn't quite get that. It's kind of weird when you mention all of the sources of inspiration for your book in the first fifteen pages then spend two hundred pages telling a thinly-veiled regurgitation of those inspirations. I didn't mind that this was a self-aware world where the protagonist knows about things like Last Starfighter and Ender's Game, but then why do we spend so much time on the details that Last Starfighter and Ender's Game did better? I feel like the pacing of this book suggests that it should be more about interpersonal relationships than action but a lot of time is also spent describing action, so much so that the characters are too shallow to really care about. I kind of spent the first two thirds of the book waiting for it to start but then the end was pretty unsatisfying for me as well. I don't mean to sound overly harsh... I really admire Ernest Cline and see him as a local success story and from what i've seen on his appearances and around the Alamo and through mutual friends he seems like the nicest guy and I'm honestly thrilled for him... but I also wish I liked this book more. I didn't really like it. I thought it was a bit of a mess.|
|09.04.11|| Catching Fire||Suzanne Collins||Second in the series. The beginning was a liiiiiitttle slow but quickly picked up and became as readable as the first. I'm really enjoying this series and ripping through them. Still maybe a little brutal for "young adult" but whatever... kids can take it. I can do without the love triangle and since I'm a dude I side on both boys' side rather than the girl (even though I'm reading from her perspective) but that's to be expected. Good book, good series, i'm steaming straight through to the next one.|
|09.04.09|| Preacher||Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon||This was one of those series that I'd kinda heard mentioned from people throughout the years about how great it was... picked up the first graphic novel on a trip to Frugal Media and didn't really care for the first few issues... but by the time I'd finished the first book I was hooked enough to use an Amazon gift certificate to ease the pain of investing in 8 other books to read the series. Ultimately, I wish there was a cheaper option but I don't regret making the purchase. The whole series was consistently good and had a marvelous tendency to bring in interesting characters and kill them off regularly. I don't feel like anyone was kept alive or in the book longer than they should be just for the sake of popularity or brand-building which, in my limited experience with reading comics, i was surprised by.
It was also quite perverted and violent which I liked. And the covers were great (even if the characters were not always quite on model).
A very fun read all said and done. I flew through the books... probably the fastest I've read 2000 pages ever|
|09.03.17|| Dragon Teeth||Michael Crichton||I really loved this. It reminded me of what it was like to read other Crichton classics for the first time. Unbelievably page-turning, smart, informative, thrilling, exciting. In the afterword, Crichton's widow said she traced the origins of the book to a correspondence in the mid 70s. I wonder if the book was finished back then and for whatever reason he thought it wasn't good enough to release or if it was a long-standing work like Pirate Latitudes that he would continuously tinker with through the years. I could see how, once Tombstone and Wyatt Earp came out in the 90s and certainly after the HBO show Deadwood in the 00s, he would've given up all hope of publishing lest he look like a copycat, but I'm glad it's seeing the light of day now because it's fantastic. It shares a brisk historical pace with Pirate Latitudes but doesn't suffer from the trope-laden laundry list of events that the second half of that book falls into. I actually liked this more than his last few prehumorous(?) releases like Prey and Next and even State of Fear. This one is devoid of topical commentary and political agenda; it's just a good story well told.|
|08.30.14|| Weird Al: The Book||Nathan Rabin, Weird Al||Weird Al's coffee table book. Lots of photos and album covers interspersed with AV Club-style text and quoted tweets and whatnot. It was a quick read and fun just like the guy and his music. Gotta love Weird Al. I love how when I was a kid I listened to his tapes and heard a bunch of his spoofs before I was aware of the originals and now that I'm old the same thing is happening.|
|08.30.11||The Hunger Games||Suzanne Collins||I wasn't intending on reading this series until Bob at work mentioned that it was a lot like The Running Man. I'm a real sucker for this genre... Running Man, The Long Walk, Battle Royale... Love it. So here I am.
This really flew by. Thanks to the survival bent and the deathsport driving each chapter, I could hardly put it down. I'm definitely curious if I'll enjoy the next two books as much without the Games themselves to interest me, but we'll see. I can also tell from the end that there might be a young adult love triangle that will be hard for me to take but again, we'll see. This book I'm kind of surprised is categorized as Young Adult considering the amount of brutality on display. Kids today...
Good book. On to the next one.|
|08.30.10|| Dead to the World||Charlaine Harris||the fourth sookie book and the first that I haven't already seen adapted to the show, well.. at least not completely. Honestly, it felt pretty episodic to me. I guess they all do but this one is already kind of fading from memory. Sometimes it can be annoying to stick so closely to sookie's point of view because no other characters are ever really developed. It's hard to visualize and ultimately remember these evil witches in this book when they only appear twice in the whole book. Since they're not fleshed out so much, they come off seeming a bit random to me. But I think that's at least partially just me grafting my personal tastes onto the book, which obviously doesn't care as much about that stuff than i do. Instead, Sookie is internally consistent even if she's stuck in a fantasyland of supernatural hunks that yearn for her. I guess I'll read one more then maybe take a break. A fun enough read but not terribly permanent.|
|08.29.07|| Blood Work||Michael Connelly||The one turned into the Clint Eastwood movie. I finally couldn't remember the details from the movie enough to make this worth reading. I'm finding every one of these Connelly books to be a consistent level of entertaining and captivating light reading. So at this point I don't really have anything new to say except that the book was good.|
|08.27.17|| Ready Player One||Ernest Cline||With the movie coming out, the trailer getting released, I realized that I had forgotten a lot of the small plot details like what the gate challenges were and who main characters were. So re-reading this was pretty good fun. Having read Armada, some of the scotch tape and white-out starts to show in the actual prose here, but you can't argue with the references, plot, or fun of it. I just hope that the movie captures that.|
|08.27.06||The Night Gardener||George Pelecanos||The latest from George... is really great. Where I think Drama City showed an influence on season three of The Wire, season three of The Wire definitely bears weight on The Night Gardener... to the point where one character delivers a little monologue almost verbatim from Bunny Colvin on The Wire... but that's really not a bad thing.
The big thing with this book is he seems to finally tackle the big archetype of mystery and crime fiction: homicide cops. It's great because, similar to how realistically he treated the whole private detective thing in his last series of books, Pelecanos sets up several situations which traditionally end a certain way, then treats them with 100% authenticity and reality and shows us how they'd really end up. In this case, the body of a kid is found in a public garden that seems to match with a series of murders gone unsolved back in the 80s. All the kids names are palindromes (like Eve, Otto, etc.) and the three main characters of the book are the lead detective in those cases, now retired and old, and two cops who were rookies back then, one now a senior detective and the other washed out. What's really great about this book is that premise sounds interesting in a certain kind of way, but the book spends every page making it interesting in completely different kinds of ways.
Also in typical Pelecanos fashion, we simultaneously follow the exploits of an antagonist, although the paths of the pros and ants usually only cross at the very end of the book. Here, he gives perhaps the least substantial conenction between all the characters, almost making it like two completely separate stories going on, but the connection is more on a character level and proves to be really great for one of the characters... Really great book...
...until the last two paragraphs. He gives us an answer that by the end I was really hoping he wouldn't spell out. Again, this is a sort of Wire-esque thing that seems to happen every season with characters coming very close to making a critical connection but then rocicheting away from it, not knowing how close they came to tying up all the loose ends... but in this case I really think he doesn't need it. It's enough to go on the faith of how everything else ends up... without having to tell us the reader the ultimate answer. that kinda bugged me.
Everything else about it though is excellent. I do think he's getting better with every book... I really liked Drama City a lot and think I like this one more... Can't wait for the new season of The Wire and then hopefully another Pelecanos book! also, I think i'll be catching up on his back catalog too...|
|08.26.12||The Drop||Michael Connelly||Another Harry Bosch book, this one dealing with two cases instead of the normal one. Yet again, solid storytelling. The second half of the book flew by even with the weird structure of having one case end about two thrids of the way through. I can't really think of much to say other than I really like how Connelly is aging Bosch in real time so he's dealing with retirement and his teenaged daughter and stuff like that where if you read his earlier stuff you see him tangle with the kid's mom and work under different supervisor's and everything else. Connelly has built himself a pretty deep backstory and universe populated with minor characters from which to draw on these days so it's really cool to see that universe advance.|
|08.25.18|| Dungeons & Dragons: Player's Handbook||Various||I was into D&D in highschool. It was a long time ago. Now, ~25 years later, I'm getting ready to run a game again. I know you're not really supposed to read these core rulebooks cover to cover but I figured if I'm going to run a game I need to know - or at least be familiar enough to know where to look for - every rule in the book anyway so I might as well. It's definitely not the most fun that one can have with D&D but I ended up really enjoying the efficiency with which this edition was written. It feels really eloquent and concise which is a real feat considering the ruleset attempts to describe doing... pretty much everything. I never really read any of my old 2e books this way so i can't really compare this experience to any other... but I did find it interesting. I do feel more prepared now, which is good because I don't think I'll have time to read through the whole DMG before starting.|
|08.25.11|| Survive!||Les Stroud||I went through a short but intense Survivorman phase a year or so ago. Someone was thoughtful and got me this book I guess as a semi-joke or just thought it would be a good gift. It is. It's basically a survival handbook written by Stroud - scratch that, ghost-written by Stroud - pulling everything he tried to show in his show together into a cohesive manual. It reads a bit dry but there's a bunch of pictures and a few drawings that help. Mostly, the book made me want to watch the show again.|
|08.25.05|| House of Leaves||Mark Z. Danielewski||too me forever to read. The idea of it is great, how the book starts going crazy to reflect the story, but the main story reads like a non-fiction analysis of a fictitious movie and it's interjected wildly by another character who's supposedly editing and fixing it up for publication. This character goes on lengthy tangents and goes crazy himself so really none of the text is particularly riveting or easy to read. I guess overall it was a positive experience because he does do a lot of cool stuff with the actual medium of the book, but it's fattened up with all this stuff i didn't really care about, including 150 pages of appendices including 50 pages of letters from the editor's crazy mother.
It'd make a good movie though.|
|08.24.08|| What Just Happened?||Art Linson||Pretty good as far as Hollywood horror stories go, mostly because they deal with movies I've seen and actually like (in most cases). It's very short though; too short really... and all the dialogue between Linson and Jerry Katzenberg gets a bit tedious, but hearing about Alec Baldwin's freakout over his beard on The Edge and the reaction of Fox executives upon first viewing Fight Club was fun.|
|08.21.16|| Sick in the Head||Judd Apatow||A collection of interviews that Judd had with comedians and other entertainers. Apatow's origin story is pretty interesting: he conducted a lot of interviews with comedians while in high school (a few of which are printed here) in order to learn what it was that a comedian did. The book mixes some of those early interviews in amongst more recent interviews, transcribed podcasts, and dvd commentaries. There are more good ones than bad ones, although I will say I was surprised at how some of the people I thought would make good interviews didn't come out as well as others from people I maybe wasn't so directly interested in hearing from . My favs were probably Harold Ramis, Spike Jonze, and Mike Nichols. I'm typically a sucker for these long-form interviews so this is biased but I liked parts of this book a great deal. On the whole, it's pretty good... I don't know how you get around this, but I feel like I read the same summarization of Apatow's childhood like 8 different times throughout... that got to be a bit much. The stuff where he talked about his work - where it comes from, getting it made, how he feels about it now - was all great though.|
|08.21.13|| Joyland||Stephen King||King's second book for Hard Case Crime and it feels twice as long (in that it's a short novel rather than novella or puffed up short story). I found 90% of this book to be a wonderful joy. The period small beach town stuff, the independent amusement park stuff, the carny speak and ghost in the dark ride and wearing the fur stuff was perfect. I also liked the stuff with the kid and his mom a lot but the last act where this mystery comes together in a climax was kind of forced I thought. Since the cast is so limited, once the book became a whodunit and King dropped the first real clue I felt it was too blatant who it was so any doubts or red herrings King threw in just made the story feel more mechanical to me. Plus it's yet another case of some serial murder psychopath being warm and personable for the whole book until they're revealed and then they start twirling the mustache. It kind of put a damper on how much I seriously loved the rest of this.|
|08.21.08||The Overlook||Michael Connelly||I'm now up to date with the Harry Bosch books. Whew. This one seemed like less of a real entry and more of an extended novella since the story was more of an adventure than an investigation and the whole thing takes place in 12 hours. The resolution was a bit cliche but my hunch is that he intended it that way; using current events to mask one of the oldest motives in the book. A fun romp but not quite up to Connelly's usual novel standards just due to length and the constant cliffhanging that writing it for serial publication demanded.|
|08.18.12|| Masters of Doom||David Kushner||The inside story of id Software's heyday. It's really interesting to go back and read this stuff that I was so close to and embedded in from halfway through highschool through college. All the names referenced were familiar to me and I still remember all the various .plan updates and eagerly awaiting qtest1 by refreshing id's website waiting for American to update it, but I never knew all the gossipy details of how id worked and what created the frequent turnaround in there. These people were kind of like rock stars to the quake community but then they were out and working for some other company. Now I have a pretty decent idea why.
Maybe the most interesting thing about reading this book for me is that I was always pretty anti-romero. I think Doom 2's levels are superiour to Doom 1's, I didn't enjoy Daikatana at all (although I must say there were a few good elements there, like being able to upgrade the daikatana), and found his facetious showboating to be pretty annoying. I always sided with Carmack whenever anyone brought up sides. After reading the book though I'm much more sympathetic towards Romero than I am toward Carmack. I also find it interesting that my personal enjoyment of id games seems to have coincided with the rise of internal strife inside the company. I loved the shit out of Quake for its network play, its lava, the excitement surrounding the mod community, and because i was pretty damn good at it. When I look back at youtube vidoes of gameplay it looks like absolute shit. When I think about the level designs and the enemies they are a huge step backward from the polish and detail of Doom 2. And Quake 2 didn't even ship with multiplayer.
Anyway, I very much enjoyed this book. Probably because it was aimed right at me and frankly I'm surprised I put off reading it for as long as I have.|
|08.17.10|| Club Dead||Charlaine Harris||Third Sookie book. Liked this one more than the previous two, mostly because the ending didn't infuriate me like the others have. I still think that the show does a better job constructing plot, but Harris' imagination is flowering more with every book and the details she includes about her world are what make the show a success. It's still weird how ultra-minor characters in the book are relatively major players in the show, and i found it cool that all the stuff going on with the show in Bill's world technically could have been happening in the book but we'd never know it because thanks to sookie's narration, we have no clue what Bill's world is like when he's away from her.
That said, I found Bill's reason for leaving in the book lackluster compared to Russell's plan in the show. His relationship with Weres is also less explained in the book which irked me a bit (see above with my comment about plot), but at least its not as convenient as having Lafayette's bloody wallet in a trunk or your brother's childhood friend turn out to be a killer slash sister necro rapist. So i think these books are getting better.
I'm jumping right into the next one because I want to experience at least one book without the predisposition of the show weighing over it.|
|08.15.07|| Rant||Chuck Palahniuk||An Oral Biography of Buster Casey.
So I wasn't too hot on Haunted. I thought it was too long and had too much mediocre Palahniukisms in between the stories (most of which weren't that great. Guts was by far the best and I remember there being only one or two others that I really enjoyed)... so that after not liking Invisible Monsters as much as I thought I would kind of made me hesitant to pick this one up. I'm glad I finally did though because it's really good.
Mainly because it's challenging. Palahniuk works a lot with presumption and format here; it's a very deliberate choice to make it an oral biography (lots of little paragraphs that are quotes from a bunch of different people about one topic), such that you take very basic things for granted. Then he changes things, making you re-evaluate what you're already read. Then he does it again. and again. So while at first some of the things that are said don't make much sense (although the the Palahniuk-experienced you... er, I just took it as Chucky having fun with language or whatever) and there's one point in particular about half-way through the book where the subject matter drastically changes and you find out all this time you've been reading science fiction!
That's a pretty big surprise to drop on someone, and it becomes clear how carefully and meticulously both the structure and the subject matter are designed to lead to this reveal. It's really top-notch expert writing. And then he goes further.
Like most of his books, each Palahniuk chapter manages to deliver one cool idea after the other in concise blips; an effect that adds up to the book as a whole, dissected as one cool idea at a time. With this book, he more or less perfects that art while also further exploring common themes in most of his work. Whereas I would say that in Haunted Palahniuk is self-aware and falls into traps where he's being so Palahniuk-esque, in Rant he uses his self-awareness as a tool. The whole Party Crashing thing as it relates to Fight Clubs and every other subversive call to human social connection present in a lot of his books explodes into pure theory towards the end of Rant, explained by his characters in an effort to understand himself. Again, really strong and continuously surprising with where it goes.
So in that way, the book is a bit of a puzzle that you begin to understand as you read (the symbols next to everyone's name for instance, don't really take meaning until half-way through the book. Even the term "historian" takes on radically different meanings as you read). I'm really impressed that he's managed to pack such a wallop in this book. The more I think about it the more I like it.|
|08.13.17||The Late Show||Michael Connelly||Another year, another Connelly book. This one's with a new character: Renee Ballard. It feels a little like resetting the clock because she works in Hollywood division just like Bosch starts out. It's pretty good, super readable, kind of more of the same but done pretty well. I do feel like these mystery books are basically boy versions of romance novels but whatever... comfort food.|
|08.13.06|| Hard Revolution||George Pelecanos||Catching up on the last book of the Derek Strange series before starting his new one... I really liked Drama City... think he's getting better with each book... but this one was period with Strange as a rookie cop and as a 12 year old for the first 80 or so pages... I should've known time period wouldn't change Pelecanos' style or readability - it's just a good a read as any others of his - but since he places it in Spring 1968 and calls the book Hard Revolution, I can't help but know right off the bat that the MLK riots will factor in somehow. The problem comes when the riots don't start until the last 40 pages or so... so the book definitely feels like it has 10 or 15 more pages to go. it ends quite abruptly. Still, nice tie-in with the baby boy growing up to be the big gangster guy Strange has to work for in the previous book... Mostly though I'm a bit mixed on the whole quartet of books because Derek Strange is such a romanticised name and the books are very very realistic. It was the most distracting here when he was a kid with his father and brother (Darius, Dennis).. sounds like a family of superheros or something living in NE DC. I guess when compared to Harry Bosch though, Derek Strange isn't as weirdo as it could be...
So this is how the Strange stories end, with the beginning. I like how Pelecanos isn't afraid to move on... He keeps the same universe, careful to note people and places that have played big roles in previous books, but doesn't spend a whole career on one protagonist that's really just him anyway. All of his characters, including the one you are supposed to follow, seem real and fleshed out.
So after his new one, the next books of his that I'm gonna read are his first, dealing with Nick Stefanos. I have a hunch that Nick is much closer to George than Derek is, so we'll see. Maybe he started out in that Kinsey Malone Kay Scarpetta mode and grew above.|
|08.11.11||The Man Who Heard Voices||Michael Bamberger||Behind the scenes on the making of M. Night Shyamalan's The Lady in the Water. Jarrette lent this to me about a billion years ago and I'm finally getting around to reading it. I really disliked every Shyamalan movie after The Sixth Sense and Lady's failure felt vindicating to me because I was tired of having to tell people that his movies sucked. I'd always heard stories about how egotistical Shyamalan was and how he got people fired for not liking his scripts or things like that so I thought this book would be filled with juicy details.
It sort of was, but the writer did an admirably objective job of not being too malicious. He writes a lot from inside people's heads though, which tends to get kind of melodramatic and suspiciously amped up. I wondered if people really placed THAT much meaning behind the things that the author assigns significance. Probably not, but I guess that's what sports writers do. So the book isn't 100% dry reportage.
In the end, I wound up pitying Shyamalan more than revelling in my hatred for him. As I probably should've guessed, Shyamalan the person sounds pretty nice. If I met him on the street I wouldn't spit in his face. I probably wouldn't even volunteer that I wasn't a fan of his work. It must be painful to be sitting in the editing room KNOWING your movie isn't coming together and still have to face the world as if you think it's awesome. To watch as everyone you see tries to spin their mixed receptions to a positive light. What I thought before reading the book was that Shyamalan never realized that his movies had problems. Now I'm not so sure. It sounds as if he got plenty of feedback, at least with Lady, telling him that things weren't great.
On another note, this book was probably intended to be a success story. Reading it years later, after The Happening and The Last Airbender have been released, it has a much different tone, at least to me. The impending doom pops up everywhere.
It's funny though. Shyamalan's still super rich. Even if his career has his the rocks, it's not like he's destitute. I can't feel too much pity because he still gets to what he wants every day.
Time to get back to work.|
|08.11.10|| Living Dead in Dallas||Charlaine Harris||Second Sookie Stackhouse book. I liked this one a lot more than the first, but again hated the ending. I'm pretty sure that even without seeing the second season of the show, i'd have a problem with someone leaving his trunk all bloody and with the victim's wallet!!! For like a week, while there's a big murder investigation going on in your small town. You'd think that he'd wash his bloody trunk out or at least throw out the fucking wallet!
Other than that, I liked how the differences between book and show make them seem like bizarro-world versions of one another, or remixes or something like that. it's weird how they have the same elements but completely different deliveries and even completely different emphases on what's important. I think ultimately i still like the show more at this point because I feel like Harris' attention to plot is really lacking, but the exploration of other supernatural races and organizations in this book was really more enjoyable for me. I think at this point I'll read at least two more to get at least one book read that I haven't seen as a show... Still not sure I'll go the whole distance though... we'll see.|
|08.11.08|| Echo Park||Michael Connelly||As I finally wind down the Connelly books, I am now an active fan. I kind of see him as the Stephen King of the mystery/crime genre. The stories may not be super incredible and I'm never really scared or worried or any of that but damn if they aren't fun to read and reliably consistent. I also like how he has Bosch age. He's an older guy now and even though we didn't first meet him as a rookie we feel he has even more experience these days, and is possibly getting left behind. It's an interesting dynamic. Also toned down are the archetypal random romances in every book. It seems like ever since whatserhane shot herself in... one of the books (Lost Light? City of Bones?), he's really narrowed his women down to just one or two. I also appreciate (much like Stephen King) how he keeps his non-Bosch books in the same universe, occasionally tying together.
So after this comes the short Outlook, followed by probably a year break until his new one's out in paperback then I'll go back and read Lincoln Lawyer and the new one since they both have the same main character. This last long run of his books have been fun though and it's a solid comfort knowing I have a page-turner paperback in my bag at work whenever i need to take a break.|
|08.10.15|| Jurassic Park||Michael Crichton||In the wake of Lego Jurassic World and re-watching all four films I decided to re-read this book. I guess I read it way back in high school before the first film came out and I was surprised at some aspects of this re-read. For one, a lot of the actual prose wasn't... great. I mean I always remembered Crichton's best gift is his ability to explain complicated science or technology in layman's terms, not so much character or emotion, but some of the writing in here was pretty basic stuff. However, the story was still great and it's re-affirming to me to see that even a huge hit like this was still had some cracks in the armor... I think most people really don't care about clunky sentences if the story is great. And the story is still pretty great. A few more characters than the movie, a few more deaths, plus a few plot differences that probably don't work well in visual form but represent interesting ideas (like how the raptors want to migrate). I enjoyed another visit here and it's definitely scratched the dino itch.|
|08.08.13|| Lurker in the Lobby: A guide to the cinema of H.P. Lovecraft||Andrew Migliore, John Strysik||Half film listing and half interview transcripts, this book does a pretty decent job of representing Lovecraft's cinematic adaptations. I picked this up a few years ago when the Lovecraft Film Festival made a showing at the original Alamo and it really came in handy since I'm going through a bit of re-interest in his story and world. You will likely see some Lovecraft on this site before too long. The only problem with the book is that most of the movies talked about in here are not that great, so the reviews in particular get a little snarky. I guess it's hard not to but you know... still. It's weird to read the authors trash a movie then talk to the director or writer of it. Also it feels like the authors have a few positions on correct and incorrect ways to adapt Lovecraft so they debate a few of the interview subjects maybe a bit too far. Overall though I thought it was a good book and a great way to ease myself back into the mythos.|
|08.07.12||A Lifetime of Secrets||Frank Warren||So... I just recently became aware of postsecret.com. For the few who are like me, it's an ongoing "art project" where basically people from across the country send this guy postcards with their deepest darkest secrets on them and he posts them on the internet anonymously. Some are sad, some are funny, some are sexy, but really most are sad. I found the site to be incredibly human and intimate and bought one of the books.
It's a bit pricey considering it took all of an hour to read through but still worthwhile in my mind as a coffee table book and occasional inspiration. The messages are just so raw due to their size limitations and implicit meanings that I get really moved reading the stuff. I do wonder how so many people come up with these crazy artistic postcards to go along with their fucked up secrets... I guess a lot of them are artists or something who knows. I hope it's not fake.|
|08.07.12|| What it Was||George Pelecanos||A short novel about Derek Strange in the early 70s. More Hard Revolution than Soul Circus. I enjoyed it very much. Pelecanos notes in his preface that the book was written in a fever and it kind of feels that way. He frames it as a story told at a bar to pass the time and it really feels like that too. I got a tiny bit consued between some of the characters - Monique and Martina mostly - but that's it. It's a tight story told very well and peppered with period authenticity. I know I could never write anything like Pelecanos because I don't know anything about cars. I could never even pretend like I know. Great book. This might be the go-to recommendation for me now instead of Shoedog which is so early I don't think it reflects his style as much anymore.|
|08.04.07|| Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets||David Simon||My curiosity to read this book stemmed mainly from The Wire. In a commentary for the first episode, Simon said that he took a particular anecdote from his book so I thought it would be full of similar little tales and also give a clearer picture of guys like Jay Landsman (who now has a small role on the show) and Ed Burns (co-creator and writer of The Wire) and see the connections with the show.
The book is a pretty massive tome detailing a year of murders, intercutting fly-on-the-wall day-to-day reportage with lengthy examinations of pretty much every aspect of the job, from surveying the crime scene to gathering evidence to interrogating witnesses to coercing confessions to the medical examiner's office and autopsies to the prosecution and how the crime ends. It's like 600 pages of pretty small text and takes a long time to read, which is kinda good because by the time it ends you feel like you know all these guys.
A big piece of interest for me is that the year spent with these guys was 1988... so although certain things haven't changed at all in 20 years (people are still getting murdered, drugs are still the cause of a lot of it) but others seem very very old (like all the pre-CSI trace evidence stuff). Maybe it's still true but a large point I took away was that in '88, detectives almost never matched blood or hair or fibers or any of that stuff. take that, CSI!
Mostly, I loved the stuff dealing with the detectives talking to one another. Real meaty stuff with veterans giving rookies shit and laughing about the stupidity of criminals, that kinda stuff. The treatises on procedure got a bit dry but after all, this is 600 pages here... what else would it be if not thorough.
Simon does a great job... with the whole thing really but especially in creating dramatic structure with nonfiction events. There's a major case that he starts and ends and occasionally checks in with throughout the book and you know it's real life so it might not have the outcome that you want it to have but the case is so intriguing and you so get behind the detectives that it's really dramatic and wrenching to read.
so yeah, really good book. more of a thing to read slowly and live with for a while. I am SO excited now for the final season of The Wire. Argh!|
|08.02.11||The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest||Stieg Larsson||Final book in the trilogy. It's interesting how the genre of these books changes on a whim. For a while it's mystery, then it'll take a little break to give extensive backstory and before you know it, it's full on political intrigue, then you find yourself in a courtroom and Larsson is delivering a top-tier cross-examination. He really goes wherever he needs to go in order to tell this complicated multi-faceted story. I think my enjoyment of the books have grown from one to the next. I'm not sure if this is my favorite since it feels so much like the second half of the second book, but the last two are definitely superior to the first. That climactic courtroom scene in particular had me glued to the pages.
I do wish he would've spent a little more time telling us the outcome of everyone much like he followed Wennerstrom's actions at the end of the first book. I'm not sure if a fourth book was planned or not... i guess a lack of ultimate finality is explainable if it was... but you know, at least it ended the story unlike the second book. All in all, I'm glad I read these as they have definitely grown on me. Larsson's reluctance to omit details kind of grows on you after a while because you get used to such a complete mental picture. I wonder how I'll feel about the next novel that I read which invariably neglects to tell me exactly which couch the characters are sitting on.|
|08.01.10|| Dead Until Dark||Charlaine Harris||The first True Blood book. Molly is tearing through these so I thought it'd be interesting to check them out to see how the differences cut out. The net effect is pretty weird... mostly the book is all in Sookie's POV, so everything that happens to everyone else is only mentioned when they come into contact with Sookie. So I came away from this feeling like the first season of the show was very faithful to this book but then flushed out everyone else to the point where the book seems shallow.
Furthermore, there are several plot points that I think are handled better in the show. The whole murder mystery aspect is very secondary in the book - it reads to me more like a romance book than a mystery - and the ending is completely tidy and rushed and terrible. I didn't love the way the first season wound up with the whole faxing the police sketch thing but at least they gave it a little more time and attention than the book, which just thrusts the ending onto sookie and completely explains itself unbelievably...
So i'm reading the second now because i liked the second season of the show more than the first and i'm hoping the books get better as the show did, but i wasn't altogether happy with this one. The show definitely did a successfull adaptation to my mind.|
|07.27.17||The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.||Neal Stephenson, Nicole Galland||Finished this on my birthday! I really liked this one. Stephenson's take on time travel invites an opportunity for a bunch of other stuff that I know he's into (like realistic swordplay) and I would say that I feel Galland's feminine perspective on many of the characters but I think Stephenson's pretty good and has a long history of female protagonists so I don't really know how this book was split up. Plus I'm always a sucker for epistolary or whatever you call the style where the narrative is made up of different source documents (I should really look that up. I think it's like the third time I've written this sentence on here). I enjoyed all the historical times that the book visits and found the sci-fi premise believable enough to buy. I also like how it included several mythical or lore-based things like witches and hell in a plausible way... as well as making a statement about creative arts in general and mankind's technological path through recent history. All really fun and super readable.|
|07.27.06|| Five Patients||Michael Crichton||yay for birthdays... I knew I would be getting new books today so I made sure to finish this today...I hate when I finish a book like a day early... and have nothing to read for one night. Anyways...
In this, Crichton relates the history of hospitals through five examples of different aspects of medicine and technology. Of course, since it was written in like 1970, I am never sure whether or not anything he says is still kind of up-to-date or if 30 years have completely invalidated his thoughts on the "current" state of medicine. I also wound up thinking about ER a lot... still though, his writing is pretty readable even when he's going on and on about how much a day at the hospital costs in 1970... and it was short.|
|07.25.14|| Mr. Mercedes||Stephen King||Another season, another Stephen King book. This one was pretty good. There was a moment about halfway through where ghosts are mentioned and I had a thought of "wait a minute, this is a Stephen King book... there COULD be ghosts in this world!" but there weren't. I think part of the reason for setting it in some unnamed Midwest great lakes type area rather than Stephen King's Maine is because there are no supernatural elements here. The character of Brady doesn't belong with Randall Flagg and the Crimson King. He's a real life monster. As always a great read, but also not blown away by it. It might make a great movie though since it's more or less a straight forward thriller.|
|07.25.12|| I'll Be in My Trailer||John Badham, Craig Modderno||I bought this thinking it would be full of gossippy anecdotes about specific actors being primadonnas on sets of specific movies. What I got was a text book for directors on how to handle actors. For all the books I've read and special features I've watched, I've never ever had any exposure to anything even close to what this book focuses on. I feel like it's the missing link in my own personal little amateur learning course on how to make movies. I've always wanted the special features to show somebody do a take, follow the director as he walks up to an actor, listen to what he tells them, then watch the resulting take to see actual honest-to-god direction actually take place. The only place I've seen it is on the Frighteners DVD when the camera films 40s minutes of raw principal photography, and that is in the midst of all the myriad technical details that take place between each take. This book is really the first time I've ever heard any director speak about what he actually does and not say it in some vague impressionistic way so it sounds good as an interview question or comes off as self-important and abstract because James Lipton is the one asking the question.
So the book is structured like a text complete with summaries at every chapter and a detailed table of contents so you can revisit certain sections if you ever need a refresher. This book should be taught in all film schools I think. I learned so much in how to actually handle actors so much so that in my vague fantasy of one day making a movie I am no longer at a loss to what I'd actually be doing there other than lining up awesome shots and having everyone worship at my little director's chair. It's chock full of what I take to be vital advice and instruction, sourced from a ton of interviews with actors and directors and written as clearly as possible.
It's also weird to read a book that quotes another book that I've read. Badham talks quite a bit about differing opinions about rehearsals and mentions Sidney Lumet's favored style which I've read all about in his excellent book. It was a weird connecting-the-dots moment that usually only happens to me when I'm reading another book on film noir or something like that.
So i really enjoyed the book, not so much in an entertaining way as much as an educational one. If I ever do find myself on a set trying to get an actor to act, I now feel comfortable in doing a good job. Indespensable reading for any aspiring director.|
|07.24.07|| Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows||J.K. Rowling||So I've been reading a book for a while and am just about finished with it but 200 small-type pages seemed too long for me not to put it down and pour through the new and last Potter book. Couldn't help it. Luckily I pretty much read it straight through only stopping to eat and sleep a few times so it's back to normal now.
the book? I think it delivers on everyone's expectations and proves to be a satisfying and fitting end to the series. pulls no punches and doesn't cop out and, thanks to several devices including turning the book's structure on its ear, lends all 760 pages an air of finality, like the last piece of a puzzle fitting perfectly into place. You laugh, you cry, yadda yadda yadda... she really pulled it off.|
|07.19.10||The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer||Jennifer Lynch||A co-worker gave this to me and I still have most of my paperbacks packed so this flew to the front of the queue out of sheer convenience.
At a glance, it's kind of a 200-page book that you don't really have to read. You know how Laura ends up, you know how she died, and you know what her secret life was... but still, for the die-hard fan I guess it's fun to read it from her perspective. When you get into reading it though, you realize that it's all about like a 14-15 year old girl slutting around and snorting coke. It's pretty depressing, actually. And I know it's supposed to be but... eh.
Mostly, I feel awkward that David Lynch's daughter wrote this. Sure, dad, I'll write a secret journal about a teenager's sexual fantasies and drug habits for your show. Let's hope it wasn't too autobiographical.
Mostly, this book was kind of a bummer. It was fun to try and remember all the plot points from the show and how they connected into the book but that was a minor thrill compared to, say, watching the show again. Oh well.|
|07.18.05|| Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince||J.K. Rowling||ran through this one in two days, couldn't believe it. The only real negative is that since I didn't re-read book five beforehand there were some characters and spells i was kind of hazy on. The universe is getting so big now that I'm not remembering it all. Other than that though, this book made a good penultimate installment, set things up nicely for the final book. I bet kids are sad right now but hey... just a story. Knew it was gonna happen eventually. Other than that, it's cool to see what happens and the writing itself mature as harry does. I don't know if this is a consciouss effort or just Rowling getting better with each book but either way it works. I'm very interested to see what happens in the next book and if that will be the last one as we've been told all along.|
|07.17.06|| No Country for Old Men||Cormac McCarthy||like a Texan mystery thriller story about a guy who stumbles upon a drug deal gone bad, takes the money, and runs from all sorts of people who are trying to get it back. Including Anton Chigurh who is like this really scary ultra-professional uberkiller with no qualms about killing random people wherever he goes.
It's a good book for many reasons... I feel a personal vindication in that he doesn't use a single quote for any of the dialogue... actually the whole book is very light on all punctuation. I bet you can count the commas on two hands. It gives the prose kind of a blunt pared down feel even when sentences go on for long times as he describes exactly what characters do in detail (stringing out 5 or 6 actions with "and"). Another reason would be the language is dead on with the characters... I read it and hear deep Texas drawls in their speech. He also plays with point of view a lot... switching it up and interesting times to write certain events that you would think we'd find out about one way from a different perspective so we're constantly piecing together what's going on and who's connected to who.
Good stuff, should make a really good Coen brothers movie.|
|07.13.13|| Tell-All||Chuck Palahniuk||After reading Stephen King's book On Writing I read a collection of just under 40 essays by Chuck Palahniuk. They were originally posted on his website around 2005, 6, and 7 and I remember reading the first half dozen or so when they first came out and being really impressed by their practical knowledge. Reading them again, I still found them valuable. They're really a great resource.
However, I think I've seen a little bit too much under the hood of Palahniuk's process because everything I've read of his since (a handful of short stories and this book) has seemed more like an equation meticulously worked out than an organic story being told to me. I can't really tell if my lessened enjoyment is due to this newfound knowledge or because his work is a bit weaker than the first couple books which really gripped me. In any case, I didn't care for this one at all. I dig old Hollywood and I dig scandal but this book was a major slog. I still haven't gotten myself to trudge through the prose of Pygmy either and I'm starting to wonder if it's even worth it.
For a short book (180 pages) this felt really long. Mostly because the whole first act has no plot, the whole second act is the same two scenes repeated three or four times, and the whole third act I kind of saw coming.
So that's two strikes since I didn't really like Snuff either. I'm wondering whether to read my copy of Damned (which I hear is a return to form in some ways) or not. I hate to write this because at a certain time (about 7 years ago) I was a huge Palahniuk fan. Ever since Haunted though his work has seemed to suffer a bit. Shame.|
|07.13.05|| Lost Boy Lost Girl||Peter Straub||This book was strangely good. First off it mixes genres of haunted house, ghosts, and serial killer mystery and tells through subjective voice to the point where you're not quite sure what's real, what's just something somebody said, and what's in someone's imagination. Secondly, Straub manages to tell you each of the plot points twice, and (the real achievement here) you are still somehow interested in hearing it the second time. It's also pretty short and not prone to slow and meandering anecdotes or tertiary "atmosphere" things like Ghost Story, which to be honest is the only other non-King-collaborative Straub book I've read. Not sure how it sounds above so I'll reiterate that I really liked it.|
|07.12.14|| Odss On||John Lange||Unbeknownst to me, Hard Case Crime published a couple of Michael Crichton's early novels (written under pseudonym) before he died, and since his death re-published all 8 under his name. I actually had one of them from back when I subscribed but had no idea. Now I bought all 8 and will make my way through them soon. These were written I guess while he was a med student in the 60s. OK let me take just one second here. god damn. So he's in Harvard medical school... acing his classes becoming a doctor... and he's writing these pulpy paperbacks on the side!? What kind of fucking superman was he?? Doctor, writer, director... peak physical shape, high IQ... hopefully he had like a 2 inch cock or something just to bring him down a notch.
OK. so I wonder if I would've guessed if I read this as a John Lange book rather than a Michael Crichton book. It starts out with some brilliantly accessible description of early computing and programming and the whole book involved a cerebral approach to a luxury resort heist. It's very much his voice, or the beginnings of it anyway. But what's weird is all the sex. The women are terribly one-dimensional and all seem to exist purely as sexual creatures for the macho male leads to enjoy... These parts are kind of embarrassing really... it makes me wonder if he was writing to a typical type or genre that was expected of paperbacks back then or if he was just young and horny and felt like getting some rocks off with his prose. Either way it's something that definitely went missing in his "legit" work and feels different here.
All in all it was a fun enough read. I liked it and actually it makes me feel much better about his career because what I always thought was his first book: The Andromeda Strain, is fucking incredible so it's good to learn he didn't just sit down and start with such a great success. Yeah I liked it for sure. And I'm really happy to have 7 more Crichton books to read all of a sudden!|
|07.11.16|| End of Watch||Stephen King||The end of the Mr. Mercedes trilogy, which I feel like was a trilogy just because King wanted to write a trilogy. Like he's channeling a mystery author for a while. This wasn't bad... but it did feel to me like he stretched a whole book out of a single idea. I think I liked Finders Keepers the best out of the bunch.
I mean I still love the writing and will probably read anything King puts out until one of us is dead, but I do kind of feel like he's getting soft in his old age. I can't really remember the last book that felt like it was actively trying to scare me. Perhaps Duma Key? I mean yes, Mr Mercedes had a Michael Connelly-esque villian and it's scary to be in that guy's head and think that people like that are out there... and this one introduced some supernatural elements that I suppose were intended to magnify that fear but really, what's the fear of in this book? a website? Human nature and the fact that we sometimes commit suicide? A far cry from a clown in the sewers with glowing eyes saying "they all float down here."
And i'm not entirely unhappy about this. I mean, the guy's written a thousand books... it's natural for his interests to shift with time. But these days I feel like a Stephen King book is less an automatic scare-fest and more just a ultra-readable drama with a couple grisly paragraphs. Can't wait to read the next one.|
|07.11.12|| Double Fine Action Comics: Volume 1||Scott Campbell||This is a collection of the first 300 comic strips Double Fine artist Scott C did. According to Tim Schafer's foreward, this was his creative warm-up exercise for each day which is a pretty cool idea. There's like over 800 on the site that if I really wanted to I could go back and pick up at 301 and go through but I doubt I'll do that. I really just bought this because they were offering it on sale and signed and I figured I'd show my fandom. Not to say the comic isn't cute and imbued with Scott C's style. I thought he was kind of odd and funny to hear on the Psychonauts iOS app but I guess it turns out that's just what he's like. His odd phrasing and sentence construction can be kind of profound if you ponder on it for long enough, like how one person, when asked why he's making weird sculptures on the surface of the moon, says "Because it is the way I feel inside." I like that.|
|07.10.11||The Girl who Played with Fire||Stieg Larsson||The second in the trilogy. Much stronger in my opinion. There's a whole beginning bit with Lisbeth in the Bahamas or something that was pretty odd and Larsson's painstaking attention to detail even going down to listing which IKEA items Salander furnishes her apartment with gets a little tedious sometimes, but I dig the style when it comes to investigations since I really feel like nothing is being glossed over. He also seems to have rewarded the reader for the weird structure of the first book by having the action in this one go literally to the last page of the book. I'll say that he has me firmly on the hook for the third book.|
|07.10.08||The Closers||Michael Connelly||I think this is the first Connelly book that I was actively excited to start. Bosch is back on the force, this time in the open/unsolved unit and I've also now completely filled the gap (turns out, reading The Narrows spoiled a lot in the previous books). Anyway, I liked this one too. It's funny how the last few have felt like the majority of the pages are dedicated to things other than the case itself and the killer seems to just pop up at the end, but no matter. I'm enjoying the reading and plan to finish out the next three next to get myself up to date.|
|07.09.15|| Seveneves||Neal Stephenson||Man, what a great book. One of the great things about Neal Stephenson is that, while his interests and style are very much unique, they are also wide enough such that each new release of his is quite different from the last. Where his last one was a straight techno-thriller set in modern day, this one is hard science fiction starting out in the very near future and spanning far far beyond.
I walked into this book knowing nothing which was great, but I guess I have to talk about it a little bit on here so... spoilers ahead.
I just love that two thirds of this book deal with an apocalypse scenario in standard level of detail and technical acumen that Stephenson is known for. It winds up being a huge bummer to spend so much time thinking about the end of the world, but it's also riveting to follow along as it happens. And if the book was just the first two thirds, it would have been really good, but the last third is like the start of a second book. The chapter's called '5000 Years Later' and picks up generations after generations later, to the point where you could maybe skip the first 600 pages and get everything from the context of what happens in the last 300. But having all that context so firmly in mind makes every movement of every character in those last few hundred pages resonate. It's like reading history as it happens then getting to fast forward until it's legend.
And the book has such a strong point of view that several mysteries arise just from separating narratives. Like what happened to the Mars people? And I had a question while reading the first page that the book didn't address until the last one (what was the Agent!?). It's worldbuilding done on a master level. You don't just want the book to keep going, you want a whole series of books to follow exploring everything. There are so many ideas jammed into this book, the last third especially, that there's literally not enough room to properly address all of them. The fact that the pingers show up for like 10 pages is so insane to me. In the hands of a different writer, this book could've started in a different spot, been about different things, and went in different directions while maintaining the same setting and characters.
I'm going on and on. I just really loved this one and it's fun to think about.|
|07.08.12|| Ready Player One||Ernest Cline||A sci-fi pop-culture adventure that takes place in an insane VR MMO that has taken over the world. This book seems designed to appeal to any geek who's into video games, movies, 80s, RPGs, or any other generally nerdy topic. It's a scattershot kitchen-sink setting that really gets your imagination going. I loved it.
It's interesting that the puzzles and problems that the protagonist has to undergo are kind of written such that they don't really involve the player that much at all. Since the world and the game is completely new, a lot of the rules that the puzzles abide by are explained as we discover the answers which really undercut any mystery-genre practice of audience participation. The real way that it sucks the reader in is just in exploring and learning about the world itself. Waiting to see if your own particular favorite sub-culture is represented with its own planet or sector. Seeing what this impossible world of IP-mixing nerdery comes up with. Real-world implications of the new technology and global obsession as well. I loved the fitness routine and bet everyone else who wants a gamified exercise routine or healthy diet made easy wants right now. In those notes, the book succeeds like the best near-future sci-fi does. For all the negatives associated with the world, there are really attractive facets that I would love to have become reality.
The story is fairly prototypical, which isn't really a bad thing. For a world as wild as this you need some familiarity to hold on to and even still there are enough turns on convention to make it seem unique. I loved the ending where... well.. spoilery things happen. I thought it was a nice note to end on in terms of romance.
So yeah... big surprise. This book worked on me on every level. I spent the last 4 hours of my Sunday reading the last third of it to finish it up. That hasn't happened in a long time.|
|07.07.06||The Narrows||Michael Connelly||second Connelly book, first Harry Bosch book. Aside from the fact that names like Heironymous, Cherie, Brasilia, and Kizmet or whatever her it is are very very dumb first names, the book was pretty good. Looks like I have another author to catch up on.|
|07.04.05|| Fangoria's 101 Best Horror Movies You've Never Seen||Adam Lukeman, Fangoria Magazine||I'm a sucker for lists, especially lists of movies that I haeven't seen. I know it's absurd but I'd like to see every movie ever. This book supplies me with a good 80 or so that I haven't seen yet and will be adding to my master "movies to watch" list very soon. They all sound right up my alley.|
|07.01.12|| Micro||Michael Crichton, Richard Preston||Crichton's (hopefully) last novel, this one I guess unfinished at the time of his death. It seems like it. While reading this, Pirate Lattitudes definitely seemed to come from a different author. I have no idea when Pirate Lattitudes was written but I'm guessing it was like... Eaters of the Dead era or something. Maybe he trunked it because of the Johnny Depp movie or something and it had some kind of major flaws in the last half but there was an excitement behind it that felt old-school Cricthon.
Micro feels much more on the track that Prey, State of Fear, and Next presented. Interesting ideas thinly wrapped in wear story. Only here it's even worse because the prose itself is fairly poor.
The story is that a bunch of grad students get shrunk Honey-I-Shrunk-The-Kids-style except for instead of a back yard they're in the Hawaiian jungle and instead of Rick Moranis trying to find them it's an evil psychopath CEO. So once you get past the corniness of the presence and the dangerous similarity to Prey, interesting events start to happen that eventually gripped me enough to keep me entertained throughout the book.
Stuff like being able to smell pheromones, not taking any damage from impossible falls, the extreme danger of nature's predators, and uber-gross behavior of several animal species all captivated me and made me see everyday terrain in completely different ways. I got a little bit of the same stuff from The Incredible Shrinking Man and Honey I Shrunk the Kids but this is much more gross via Richard Preston's scientific recounting of biological breakdown. Anyone that read The Hot Zone can attest that the man knows how to describe gross shit happening to the human body, but his skills at fiction prose are... well ok it's hard because I wasn't really impressed with Crichton's last few efforts either so I don't really know who's to blame. Either way, I found the writing to be generally poor. Were it not for the plot (which still gets pretty ridiculous especially at the end) it would have been a poor book. Thankfully, there's still enough ideas and plot turns that made me enjoy it.
But yeah, the ending was really crap.|
|07.01.05|| Spy vs. Spy: The Complete Casebook||Antonio Prohias||During my MAD magazine phase, Psy vs. Spy was easily my favorite part of each issue. In fact, I think i have to credit those lethally clever adversaries as an influence in my current monochromatic obsession with design and art. Aside from being expertly drawn, I always loved the innocent/antique viewpoint in some of the strips, like how things such as gravity or inertia aren't really there in some of the gags, and how the spy plane wasdrawn with all these rivets and steel plates all over. Those comics were great, and this book collects all of them together. Well, not all of them all of them because now they look completely different, but all of them that the creator, Antonio Prohias, did. The "classics." Since this book was put together after Prohias' death, there are some essays from different MAD alumns as well as the few non-Spy vs. Spy stuff that Prohias did as well as an introduction explaining how he was really prominent in Cuba but had to flee after he drew cartoons calling Castro a commie. Reading all the comics together like this really blasted me back to the time when i went crazy for MAD. They still make me chuckle though, I still love them. Although for some reason I always root for the black spy. Somehow, White Spy's victories always seem cheap or unbelievable. Go, Black Spy!|
|06.30.18||The Crimson Legion||Troy Denning||The second in this Dark Sun Prism Pentad series. This one is even more pulpy than the last since it follows just one character on a military campaign across the desert. I do love the D&D-ness of it... the unabashed fantasy along with the great setting. This felt a little less gratuitously brutal than the last one, which worked. It made those moments all the more impactful when they do pop up. I am a bit torn on just following one character for the entire book. I'm guessing after the first one came out well Denning then planned the other four and I'll see the next two or even three books focus on others. I guess that's just a fantasy thing when you know you're gonna churn out 5 books in 3 years, you have the page count (and confidence that you're readers will keep buying even if a whole book deals with their least favorite character).
I guess this is all in service to my most recent return to RPGs and I do plan to finish the last three books in the series, but my short-term goals have shifted and the next read may or may not appear on this site because it's basically like reading a big instruction booklet. we'll see how i feel once i get through it.|
|06.29.14|| Branded Woman||Wade Miller||The second Hardcase Crime book (that's not Stephen King) that I've read. This one's about a woman with a "T" shaped scar on her forehead given to her by a mysterious enemy named "The Trader." She plots around in Mazatlan, Mexico in pulpy manner, falling in love and witnessing murder.
I didn't like this one as much as Plunder of the Sun. Part of the whole series is celebrating the genre I guess, but this one was too clich? for me. She falls in love in like two minutes and there's like a 10-page monologue at the end. Still though, the exotic setting of Mazatlan and the overall tone were cool. I didn't dislike it at all.|
|06.27.06|| Hollywood Babylon||Kenneth Anger||All about Hollywood scandals from the 30s through the 60s about... this was a really fun read. It's written with a real bitter aftertaste focusing on the seedy underbelly of all the great golden people with plenty of uncomplimentary pictures thrown in. I guess it's a guilty pleasure but it's a hell of a lot of fun.|
|06.27.05|| Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way||Bruce Campbell||His first book was a great memoir of his career that was written very sharp and funny. I devoured it in one day. This one, a novel, is a bit different. Bruce writes himself cast in an A-list Mike Nichols movie and each chapter takes a mundane subject and gets increasingly more goofy. He tackles Colin Powell, he makes stuff blow up, he gets Evil Dead fans to fire shotguns at FBI agents. It took me a while to surrender to the tone of this book, a while meaning the first 200 pages of this 300-page book, but in the end I enjoyed the silly simile of it all. The picture on the cover is so hilarious though, that it got me through a few bumpy parts in the writing.|
|06.24.10|| Concrete, Bulletproof, Invisible + Fried||Chris Connelly||This one needs a little backstory.
In my musically formative years, I was really into industrial music. This was mostly due to my neighbor Cameron. He turned me on to the Red Hot Chili Peppers right before Blood Sugar Sex Magick came out, then a little while later, I remember very clearly camping one friday night in the woods behind my house and him bringing two cds for the battery-powered boombox: Nine Inch Nails' Pretty Hate Machine, and Ministry's The Mind album. At first I didn't like it but very quickly I warmed to NIN's album and, after some conditioning, Ministry's stuff too. Moreso, from there we started exploring the community around both of these bands, discovering the plethora of Al Jourgensen's one-off side projects. We got a video of In Case You Didn't Feel Like Showing Up and saw the iconic chain link fence in front of the band as they stood there shouting out "Breathe, you fucker!" I noticed the cool tattoo on one guy's arm and traced that to the Revolting Cocks. And so, pretty quickly, I was a bona fide industrial music fan, anything on the Wax Trax! label specifically.
Cameron had a major man-crush on Chris Connelly. From watching him shout the lyrics to So What on the Ministry video, he wanted to grow out dreads (he tried one weekend and they looked terrible so he had to wear a rasta hat to school for a day then he brushed them out, probably pulling out half of his hair in the process). So his excitement rubbed off on me and I became a Chris Connelly fan. I remember finding out he had a solo album and listening to Phenobarb Bambalam... the menacing photo on the cover not preparing me at all for the crooning inside. I still liked it. Martin Atkins started Invisible records and I loved that as much as the WaxTrax! stuff. I remember making mail orders to both places and having to wait for months until one random day i'd get a big box of stuff in the mail, some of which I had ordered, other stuff just randomly thrown in. It was awesome.
So i was a pretty huge fan. Then my musical tastes kind of shifted and dwindled to the point of a random live show here and there. Pigface came to Rochester a few times which were always fun. Connelly also had a gig at my school, in which a small handful of dedicated goths sat and listened to his acoustic stylings. I remember finally getting the nerve up to walk up to him and shake his hand before the show and stutteringly confess how big of a musical influence he's been on me and what a huge fan I am of his work, then he asked if I'd heard any of the stuff he was doing with his new band The Bells and i was like "who?" Pretty terrible. I walked away feeling like a jerk and resolved never to fanboy it up like that again. Consequently, Martin Atkins was saved from an awkward exchange a few years later when i saw him at a Dave & Busters while I was doing a geekweekend in Chicago. I'm sure he subconsciously appreciates it.
So anyway, these days the old WaxTrax! stuff and Ministry stuff and all that have the cozy sheen of nostalgia for me, and when I saw that Connelly had written a memoir I thought it might be nice to revisit all that stuff through his eyes.
It's kind of a shame really, because he's so negative about almost everything that I loved back then, that it kind of ruins it.
If I had known that when I sent those mail orders into WaxTrax!, it was probably neglected by Connelly himself because he was too busy on speed marathons and booze benders, i don't really know how 15 year-old me would react. Now I look back on that whole period in a completely new light. Of course all those guys were rail thin, they were zonked out of their brains on coke and speed!
It's weird how drugs can had kind of a long-distance perception for me. Oh yeah, Al's big time into heroin... but you know, he's rough n tumble. But reading this book, he comes off more like a sniveling poseur scumbag. Granted, everyone comes off like complete addict scumbags because the whole book is basically "then we went to and took a bunch of then I vomited. Ha ha." on repeat. My memories of listening to these classic albums over and over again are pretty hard to hold up to this account when Christ himself condemns the work as shit.
Pigface for example. Chris has nothing good to say about Pigface. He did it for the money and nothing more. From the other side - that of a consumer - it all seemed much more fun and artistic. I almost wish I didn't know how seemingly miserable he was for that whole period in his life.
It also makes me wonder how the other people ended up. Where is Paul Barker today? What did he do after leaving Ministry? I know for me personally they got too metal after (and during parts of) Psalm 69 for my tastes. Did Paul agree?
It's also kind of shocking for me to find out that there's a Ministry CD release called something like "Side Cuts" or something that's basically all of the old classic WaxTrax! side projects re-released as one. I remember having to make a tape of my Pailhead CD for a friend in high school because the damn thing was out of print and super hard to find. Now you can hear samples on amazon. Pretty strange. It took me forever to track down a copy of PTP on CD (I remember a local downtown record shop had it as a 12" but I didn't have a record player at the time (I think I eventually found it on one of my holy pilgrimages to a shop called Phantasmagoria in Wheaton, MD; the same place I bought my own copy of The Mind album, Acid Horse, 1000 Homo DJs, and many many more discs too cool to be stocked in the local mall music stores)).
So yeah, this book is kind of a bummer. I wish Chris had a better time of those days because I sure got a lot out of them. I also wish he had taken less drugs. If for nothing else than to have something else to write about his memories of some of my once-favorite music.|
|06.23.08|| Lost Light||Michael Connelly||The next Harry Bosch book. Connelly switches it up a little bit in this one by writing from first person. I think it's a good choice as it gives him a little more freedom to get grandiose and romantic inside Bosch's head. I also don't know how the whole series would work in that perspective but, after a dozen or so books with the character it's cool to finally take a glimpse inside his psyche. I like that about this one.
The mystery itself is kinda wrapped up super quick, but the middle stuff with the FBI's post 9/11 abuse of power still works. Even though the last surprise was ruined for me by reading The Narrows first, it still made for a pretty good ending. One of the better in the series I think.
I'm also excited that I'm getting near up to date with Connelly. His books have consistently proven to be page-turners and even though I don't love them as much as Pelecanos' or Ellroy's best, it's still been fun to go through the back catalog.|
|06.22.11||The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo||Stieg Larsson||This was a really weird book. For being so internationally popular, it's strange to spend the first 350 pages slogging through uninteresting stuff, and not in a Pelecanos character-building atmospheric way but like an OCD no-detail-omitted transcript of people doing uninteresting things. I guess I blame some of this on the translation but mostly it's just the book itself.
Then to further enstrange things, there's like 200 pages where it's its own little mystery book with dramatic reveal and near-death experience and a car chase and climax/resolution right in the middle of the book. I read all this stuff and noticed that I still had 200 pages left in the book; what could they possibly be about?
It's really the last 200 pages that turned me around on this book. It insists so persistently in telling you that the crux of the book is NOT the sordid details or crazed serial killer that most mystery novels are about but really it's the boring corporate revenge of this magazine and Blomqvist's reputation that's important. The REAL climax of this book is a guy writing another book. How strange!
Really really strange book. I ended up liking and respecting it more because it was so steadfastedly resolved to finish this dry financial story despite a much more conventionally interesting murder mystery popping up in the middle. For the entire first half of the book I was convinced this would be the only one i would read, but now I'm on to the second book.|
|06.21.07|| Sleazoid Express||Bill Landis, Michelle Clifford||A mind-twisting tour through the grindhouse cinema of Times Square. This book was amazing. chockablock full of film reviews and tasty nuggets that really illuminate the touch and feel of 42nd street in its heyday. Aside from the roughly 150 movies I now want to track down after reading about them in here, I also have a pretty complete picture of that block between 7th and 8th they call The Deuce. It's... not really somewhere I'd like to go. I think I have the best of both worlds at the Alamo where I can see these movies in a theater with a crowd and not have to worry about being mugged or stuck with dirty needles. It is a fascinating glimpse, but also a kind of scary one. I wonder where all the people who used to walk that street and hang out in those theaters went in the 90s... they must be somewhere, right? Maybe either at home with a VCR or walking some other street that has no cool old theaters.
Awesome awesome book though. I loved it and will probably read it again in a few years once I see a lot more movies mentioned within. As it was I'd heard about a fair amount and have even seen a handful... but I bet the book has a much different perspective once you've seen more of what he's talking about. The only thing I could've used was like a map view of the block with a rough layout of where each theater was. I actually drew my own taken from the text and what I found online but it'd be nice to have like a quicktime VR of it where you can see all the random seedy shops in between box offices. If I had a time machine i'd definitely go back there once or twice... i'd just make sure to park somewhere safe and carry a knife.|
|06.18.05|| Who The Hell's In It||Peter Bogdanovich||When he came to town, I bought his latest book so he could sign it. I'm a big fan of the interview books of his that I've read (This is Orson Welles and most notably Who The Devil Made It) so I thought I'd give his new one a read as well. It's supposed to be a loose companion to Who The Devil Made It but with actors this time instead of directors. The book is also roughly half the size as his previous (nearly five hundred pages instead of nearly a thousand) and much more personal and "written." In only a few cases are there straight-up interview transcripts (the largest of which is Jerry lewis, which spans over a hundred pages) but overall there are 25 "portraits" here written about each star's career as well as any personal interaction Bogdanovich made with them. The book has just a smidge too much of Bogdanovich's own stuff in there (like the 40-page introduction) but, seeing as though he's the author I guess that's his perogative. My favorite chapter was Cary Grant, whom Bogdanovich knew for many of the years after Grant left the spotlight. That dude was alright, man. Other standout chapters are his interviews with John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and Henry Fonda. The whole book was interesting but these chapters were the most captivating. All in all, it was a fine read but I felt like I got a much better feel for the directors' personalities in his previous effort (through more interview transcripts and less essays applauding his career). What can you do though, if you never get a chance to interview someone randomly for a book that you might make thirty years later. His anecdotal storytelling in here is pretty good too (most of the stories he told during the Q&As after his screenings here in town are included in the book).|
|06.17.13|| On Writing||Stephen King||This is my second time reading this book although I guess I read it the first time before starting this site.
I've picked up my writing again and am making progress on several longer projects so I wanted to revisit this because I remember it having some of the best most concise and clear advice for the craft of writing that I've read. It's really a great book and full of wisdom. A lot of it hit home more for me now than when I read it before, and I hope that I can keep with it. Can't recommend this one highly enough for anyone that writes or wants to write but doesn't know how to get started.|
|06.15.12||The Cut||George Pelecanos||I decided to read this in hard-back like a week before it comes out in paperback. Odd I know. Anyway, this book follows a new protagonist that's supposedly going to be a series a la Nick Stefanos and Derek Strange. I'm not sure if it's because they were the first Pelecanos books that I read and it took me a while to get used to his style or what but I've traditionally liked his multiple-POV one-off novels more than his more genre-conforming single protagonist books. For that reason I was a bit hesitant with this one but... I should just remember the last 3 times I've been hesitant with the premise of his latest book and ended up loving it because at this point I don't think Mr. Pelecanos would release a bad book so if I don't like it then it's my problem. True to form, the book wound up being utterly absorbing and completely gripping throughout. I will say that much of main character Spero Lucas' interest comes from figuring out just what kind of a guy he is. With Nick and Derek you pretty quickly get the sense what they're about. With Spero you follow him as he continuously meets situations where you genuinely don't know what he'll do. Some of the answers to the questions posed in the book kind of surprise me in a good way. Spero is worth following around but he's not the goodest good guy that Pelecanos has ever written. Some of his actions - ok many of his actions - feel completely natural considering his background yet still take a few seconds to get behind in your head. In that way he starts to remind me of more typical pulp heroes like Travis McGee or Parker than any previous character.
Good book. Pelecanos is pretty much my favorite author at this point.|
|06.15.10|| Anathem||Neal Sthephenson||So this book... I was really kind of looking at reading this like a chore. Although I ultimately look band with fondness at The Baroque Cycle, i also remember how it was very very long and took a while to get through. While that time span gave a really epic nature to the books and characters, it also seemed exhausting. So another 900-page book about future monks with new vocabulary didn't sound like fun to me. Hence me putting off reading it for so long. But with me moving and whatnot, I wanted a long book that i had in mass market paperback and this fit the bill.
So the first 20 pages were really daunting. It's all this new language and he takes so long to describe this weird church place where the main character lives that all that happens is he's listening to two people talk for a bit then he has to walk to the church to wind the clock. So that's a pretty hard 20 pages... but then I read some reviews that said the plot doesn't really get going for the first 200 pages but its worth it so just hang in there. So i told myself to power through till page 200 and see what happens.
I started getting into it at about page 75. By 200 I was with it and fully along for the ride. Somewhere around page 400 I realized that i was loving this book.
There are several very long and complicated conversations where smart people talk about the nature of the universe. Stephenson does an admirable job of describing these advanced topics in language that i can understand (a lot like Crichton in that way) but it still makes me feel dumb when it goes on for longer than my brain can keep up. It's weird though because there will be these 30-page conversations where people are literally just sitting there having dinner and talking, then there are passages where things happen very very quickly and you almost have to read it twice just to comprehend how much is going on.
So it's a super-quantum physics philosophical meditation book, it's an epic road travel book, it's a sci-fi book in space, it's all these things in one. I really appreciated the length so Stephenson never feels rushed or hurried to get to the next thing. If he wants to devote pages 700-800 to talking instead of action, he does. I trust that he will eventually get to where he's going (which he does).
I'm pretty sad that I'm finished with this. I had an urge right when i completed it to just turn back to page 1 and start reading it again. That really never happens to me. Great book. Not only way better than I thought it would be but so much so that it's re-energized my excitement for Stephenson!
Loved loved loved it|
|06.13.17|| Easy Riders, Raging Bulls||Peter Biskind||How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock'N'Roll Generation Saved Hollywood. First off, what's up with the kindle version being fourteen bucks while the trade paperback is only eight? Bah! Anyway, I feel like I'm incredibly late in reading this book which is kind of why I picked it up. In reading it I feel like I'm finally getting the source of all these crazy anecdotes that I've heard over the years about 70s American filmmakers. So... the book itself is incredibly pessimistic and gossipy. I feel like at most I'm getting one half of the story, but that salacious half is a pretty fun read. I finally get a down and dirty account of Bogdanovich's romantic life and Scorsese's drug abuse and everyone's affairs, which is fun to read about (I bet not so fun to be the subject of). The book does all but dismiss any virtue or success though, choosing to dwell on scandal. But you know... sometimes you need the scandal rag to fill in the shadows that the key lights of the official biographies leave out. It does make me want to go back and watch a handful of movies that have similarly fallen through the cracks of my viewing habits, most notably Heavan's Gate, Reds, The Two Jakes, New York, New York, The Cotton Club, One from the Heart, and Personal Best.|
|06.12.14|| Plunder of the Sun||David Dodge||I've had a pile of Hard Case Crime books laying around for years now and I always tell myself that I'm going to blast through them some day but never do. Well, it felt like it took me extra long to finish my last book and I didn't have anything burning its way to the top of my queue so I figured this was finally a good time to start.
This was written in post-war 40s and takes place in South America, mostly Peru around lake Titicaca, and concerns an ex-pat who falls into possession of some ancient Incan manuscript leading to buried treasure of gold. It's kind of everything I wanted this series to be: tough guys, mysterious women, exotic locales, muscular plots, and lots of crime and adventure. I really liked it and look forward to continuing, maybe finding a few new authors to track down. It took me longer than I thought it would but I suspect that's because I was savoring it (not to mention I've been very busy lately). Good|
|06.12.06||The Badge||Jack Webb||The book by the Dragnet guy... the book that inspired James Ellroy and started his obsession with the Black Dahlia... the book that worships the circa 1958 LAPD from the patrolman right up through the commission. It reads like a collection of anecdotes mixed with small historical tidbits, organized by rank. It was pretty interesting in a historical sense since I don't think modern-day police have "bunco" divisions anymore (i bet they just call it fraud) and some of the race-, youth-, and drug-related issues seem rather innocent and simple. Webb writes in that Dragnet style - lots of tough-guy quotes and just-the-facts synopses - which also makes it interesting. Still, the propaganda element shines through in every page, as it did in every episode of the show. Fun read for me though.|
|06.06.12|| All Your Base Are Belong To Us||Harold Goldberg||How fifty years of videogames conquered pop culture. Really not much to do with pop culture but 100% video game history. It was really interesting to read this book because it basically catalogs my youth as well. As the chapters went on and the years ticked by I found myself remembering more and more of the story from vague childhood thoughts to seeing the games on the shelves in highschool and college to following their development on the internet to watching E3 broadcast these days, I was more familiar with each chapter I read. So that was cool. I liked this book in that each chapter was about an interesting story in the tome of Videogame History and I feel it was written honestly with sufficient sourcing and references to be authoritative. It's not a complete history by any means but the story Goldberg tells through each chapter work as examples of greater trends. Good book. I'd recomend it to any gamer.|
|06.06.08|| City of Bones||Michael Connelly||The next in the Hary Bosch series. In this one, he starts seeing a rookie who then maybe kills herself and then solves a crime and retires. This one had a really odd structure which gave the book kind of a lack of focus. The ending seemed pretty quick considering the rest of the book but whatever, I'm obviously liking these enough to keep reading them... I think I only have a handful of his stuff left. Hmm... looks like i've now read two thirds of his books. Closing in!|
|06.02.18||The Verdant Passage||Troy Denning||This is Book One in the Prism Pentad series of D&D Dark Sun novels. For whatever reason, I've been on a pretty big D&D nostalgia kick recently. A re-exploration of the Dark Sun campaign setting also ties into another project that I'm doing so I figured that reading these novels would be a good immersion in that world. A side effect is all the memories from high school that are attached to the first time I really got into this. I don't think I actually read this particular book back in the day though, so it's kind of a half-new, half-remembered trip for me.
The book itself, I'm surprised at how straight-forward and pulpy it is. I guess now that I've read the George R. R. Martin books and the world has embraced Game of Thrones levels of politics and grittiness in their fantasy, this book from the early 90s feels like it goes out of its way to seem extra brutal but comparatively it still feels a little young-adult. And you know, given the D&D branding, I'm not sure that wasn't what they were going after. Still, it was a quick and fun read and I'll probably read the rest of the series pretty quick. Unless I lose interest in all this D&D stuff.|
|05.31.05|| Drama City||George Pelecanos||Pelecanos' skill lies in telling stories that aren't necessarily jam-packed with outrageous action but are still very very enthralling to read. Also, since his subject matter and style are so closely related the the HBO show The Wire, reading one of his books is like getting to watch more Wire in my mind. His writing is really great.|
|05.30.16|| Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks||Brad Dukes||A while back, a podcast that I listen to did a Twin Peaks Rewatch. That, coupled with the news that there would be new episodes coming in the next year or two, led me to want to give the series another viewing. I still haven't re-watched the show but the podcast mentioned this book. I'm a big fan of oral histories so I thought this would be good.
And it is. Pretty much everyone (exceptions are Lara Flynn Boyle, David Duchovny, Heather Graham, and most notably David Lynch) is interviewed and gives candid opinions with the benefit of hindsight. The narrative goes from inception through the movie (although the movie is given barely a mention) and lots of details are given of behind the scenes goings-ons. Some people were more guarded than others regarding the drama and tensions but pretty much anything that isn't said outright can be inferred.
This book gave me pretty much exactly what I wanted, which is great.|
|05.30.13||The Bad and the Beautiful: Hollywood in the Fifties||Sam Kashner, Jennifer Macnair||Bunch of chapters about the seedy underbelly of Hollywood in the Fifties. I probably wishlisted this book or picked it up on impulse or got it as a gift because of a James Ellroy quote on the front. The first chapter, all about Confidential magazine and Robert Harrison, is very promising, even with a grisly true crime murder scene photo at the end, but from there it kind of gets less and less sordid. It's very anecdotal, so the chapters dealing with sujects I was interested in were engrossing but the chapters I didn't care as much about really slogged. Still, it gave a nice little peek into the last days of the classic Hollywood studio system. This is terrible but I wish there was more dirt. Still a decent read though... especially the Sweet Smell of Success and Sunset Boulevard chapters.|
|05.27.14||The Vault of Walt||Jim Korkis||Revised edition. For a book billing itself as "unofficial, unauthorized, uncensored Disney stories never told," this feels pretty damn light. I was expecting... nothing too salacious but still something skirting the edges of the spotlight or maybe showing some of the dirt under the Disney rugs... but what I got was chapters on Walt's favorite foods and how he had a paper route as a kid. It might be all those "un" words compared to the rest of the Disney literature out there but it was hardly what I would call controversial.
The stuff I liked the most was the section on Disneyland. It was all real periphery stuff like details about the carousel and appearances by the cast of Zorro, but the few chapters dealing with rides I've heard of or even (gasp) been on were really great to me. I guess this book is maybe too inside for my casual level of Disney knowledge... I'm more interested in the stories that probably everyone already knows like Club 33 and the secret mickeys in the park and development of the more popular rides and stuff like that. I should track down a book just on Disneyland that will probably give me that stuff. This was a bit of a disappointment unfortunately... just because of my expectations.|
|05.26.11|| Scott Pilgrim||Bryan Lee O'Malley||After that non-fiction brain music book that took me forever finish, I wanted to read something that I could just tear through in a couple of days. Plus now it's been a long enough while since seeing the movie that I felt ready to explore the graphic novels.
They were really fun. As usual, it was most interesting for me to catalog the differences they created in adapting for screen. I found the book more esoteric with all the fighting and the subspace highway being real and also more anecdotal and meandering since it took place over maybe a year rather than the 10 days it felt like in the movie. Some things made more sense stretched over time like that while others made less. I liked it very much and can see why the series has such rabid fans, but it also kind of spoke to an age and culture that I'm no longer a part of. I don't really remember acting like that at age 24 but am very aware of my inability to act that way now (old). Still, it was a very fun read and I'm glad I picked up the box set and didn't leave good enough alone with the movie.|
|05.25.05|| Scene of the Crime: Photographs from the LAPD Archive||James Ellroy, Tim B. Wride||A very well put-together book consisting of old LA crime scene photos with an introduction by Ellroy and a few essays by cops and whatnot as well. The book is laid out such that you see large prints of these pictures with no caption or anything, just what's written on the photo (case numbers, photographer, date, etc.) followed by an index of the photos with the crime notes attached. So you get to look at these glimpses, wonder all kinds of stuff about them: who the people are, how they died, why this picture was taken. Of course, even in the back plenty of photos don't have explanations, remaining a mystery forever. It's a very evocative book.|
|05.23.05|| Haunted||Chuck Palahniuk||This one's a sort-of anthology of short stories but it's more a straight novel since the wrapper story is really long. I'd heard this was going to be like a scary book, like scary stories and horror and stuff. Instead, it's kind of gross and utterly caught up in Palahniuk's ongoing pessimistic vibe. I think his charm is wearing off on me. Back when I read Choke and Survivor, his style and prose were amazingly fresh and cool, but now it's just retreading over and over. I hope his next effort changes things up a bit. Of the stories in here, I'd say that Guts is the best, which is unfortunate because it's also the first. It's the best because it seems the most complete as a short story. Some of the other ones are good too but I'd say almost half of them seem incomplete and they rely on the framing story to make them interesting. All in all, maybe this book was too long or too rushed or something, but I'm a bit disappointed with it. Also, it's not scary at all.|
|05.21.07||A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi||Kier-La Janisse||This is the first book I've ever read that was written by someone I know and published by a real publisher (so... not counting my book or Mike's manuscript). It's a pretty cool feeling, although I imagine it's even cooler to be the author.
After an introduction and short biography, this book is basically a listing of every Luciano Rossi film with a paragraph or two of notes about the plot, where he appears, and how his presence is treated. Each entry is accompanied by a number of stars based on how much time he has on-screen and a number of hearts based on how hot he is. For a nameless character actor in Italian exploitation film, it's obsessively complete.
The book looks great. The designer, Rob Jones, did a really great job in fitting in posters, stills, screen grabs, and anything else he could muster to make each page attractive to the eye and give some sort of reference to each movie. Since Kier-La only focuses on Rossi, the names of directors and stars are only mentioned peripherally so the images help a lot in identifying the stars of that era (many of whom I'm still not familiar).
It's cool that her book got published and that I have a copy and I've read it. It's also cool that I've seen about 4 of the 70 or so movies mentioned in the book. After reading, there are about 6 more I want to track down now.|
|05.20.15||The Martini Shot||George Pelecanos||Pelecanos' first collection of short stories which is dominated by the titular novella. This was interesting for several reasons. One of these stories was first published in 1996. I don't know if it was the first thing he wrote or what but it feels very early and before the point in which he found his voice. It's not that great. That's comforting. The novella deals with the production of a tv show and I have to believe that a lot of it is based on his experience working on Treme. It's fictionalized of course but it's also still fun to connect the dots while reading. I liked the novella the most. I feel like his size novel, around 300 pages, is probably his sweet spot. The short stories are heavier on flavor but don't deliver the resonance and authentic emotion that i get from his novels. Still, I'm a fan and this was fun to read.|
|05.19.11|| This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession||Daniel J. Levitan||Molly picked this book up for me at Frugal Media a loooong time ago and it finally made it to the top of my queue. I was very interested in the subject matter but it had to wait until I was in the mood to read a hardcore non-fiction book.
It took me a long time to read. For a while I was pretty disappointed with it. It seems like the first half of the book is all setup. This is what music is, this is what rhythm is, this is what your brain is, etc. Then even when it got to the "meat," it was still like "surprise! we like music. Furthermore, we like music if it's good!" and a lot of stuff that, surrounded by dry scientific syntax, I think anyone would realize they already knew. The promise of little factoids, interesting experiments to back up bold statements, and helpful insight was eluding me until the last three chapters or so, which were very good.
So despite me really being ready to move on to the fastest read in my queue, I'm glad I read this for those last three chapters. The stuff on musical expertise (hey, it's only 10,000 hours of practice away!) and why we prefer certain music over others (as well as why, as I'm getting older, I'm finding it harder and harder to connect with new music) is fascinating stuff. Mostly though, I wish he'd have thrown in a few more roadie anecdotes amidst the science just to keep the pages turning. Seriously, it feels like I've been reading this book forever.|
|05.19.07|| Angels Flight||Michael Connelly||The next Bosch story. This one does involve a fake suicide and dirty cop, but also some riots and pedophilia and his marriage breaks up. They sure do all blend together after a while, but for better or worse I'm hooked.|
|05.18.12|| Lush Life||Richard Price||God I miss The Wire.
This is my first Richard Price book and it's been on my shelf forever. So much so that I sort of had to force myself to start reading it. I really enjoyed it. The pacing is very strange but the characters feel documentary-grade authentic and the dialogue is sharp and terse and kind of exactly how i picture dialogue in my head (I always have a probelm with padding out the stuff outside the quotation marks. "He said stronly." "she said as she applied lipstick, peering at her compact as if it held ancient secrets." "he said weakly.") The plot is kind of slim but again feels as authentic as can be and makes for absorbing reading. There's no real climax like a Michael Connelly book which made it stand out all the more for me as I finished it today after work. It's been sitting with me a lot actually. The Eric Cash character struggling with his short-comings especially. I'm not sure if I've read a protagonist quite like that... one who spends the whole book weak and unraveling without it being this heavy-handed insanity thing or something like that. Great book.|
|05.12.18||The Whites||Richard Price||I was looking for a book to follow up The Wire history that I read and figured something by Richard Price would be a good fit since there's no new Pelecanos material. After reading that the kindle version of Clockers was terrible, I settled on this one just because it was the latest. It's very good. Terse yest descriptive, authentic and poetic, exciting and thought-provoking. And the ending evokes such a feeling of grief and melancholy that I could feel it dripping off every word. It's pretty daunting how good Price is with his prose. Goddamn it.|
|05.10.06|| Shadow of the Giant||Orson Scott Card||The last book in the Ender series that Card started oh so long ago. It's actually quite sad how the series, which started off with two absolutely fantastic books, has steadily declined to this... it's all either timely thinly-veiledgeopolitical commentary or weirdo mormon family stuff... too much talk of baby embryos and whatnot. And i don't mean political commentary thinly veiled in metaphor or analogy but like, just adding however many hundreds of years. America's silent because they overstepped their bounds with wars they didn't belong in, The Muslim nations are trying to shed their violent past, blah blah blah... I'm not interested in the news now, why would I want to read a book about that kind of thing set at some point in the future. The only thing that got me through it are the characters whom I hardly remember because I read Ender's Game so long ago... but even then... this whole "Shadow" series I've been kind of let down by... so this should come as no surprise. oh well i guess... at least it's over and at least Card didn't go back to Ender... his storyline is best left off where CHildren of the Mind ends... this second quartet of books really does pale in the first quartet's shadow... hah. although he conveninently left one character, now just a baby, open-eneded for if he ever wants to come back to this universe for a third series... i really hope he doesn't do it... or at least if he does i hope he doesn't set it on Earth.|
|05.09.05|| When Words Collide||Lauren Kessler, Duncan McDonald||Yep, a grammar book. In addition to going over all the basics in the first part, there's a quick-reference-esque topical guide in the back for all those nasty questions like whether to use "may" or "might" or the difference between "it's" and "its." All in all it was good to brush up on the stuff again, but the specific questions I had about grammar and punctuation stuff weren't really answered and the fancy English terms and definitions that i didn't firmly grasp in 10th grade don't have enough time to spend on them here to make me firmly grasp them now. There are exercises on the web and a separately available workbook that i suppose would hammer all this stuff home for me, but i think i need a somewhat more advanced or in-depth or whatever you want to call it style guide to be a better reference for me.|
|05.07.08|| Chasing the Dime||Michael Connelly||This one felt a lot like COnnelly trying to do Michael Chrichton to me... except the mystery aspects were probably a little better and the science a lot less interesting. Still a decent read though once you get past the first 150 pages or so when you're wondering why this guy is doing everything he's doing. It sometimes feels like Connelly, whether he really has experience with it or not, has a hard time describing niche-y things like... checking ones email or hiring a prostitute with any real authenticity. This was written in like 2003 and he still describes computer work in vague possibly-erroneous detail. They have the right names but his characters use them like they're 50 years old or something. Anyway...|
|05.01.07|| Trunk Music||Michael Connelly||Picked up the next Harry Bosch book because it'd been a while. This one was pretty good. I mean it still tied up all the loose ends and was pretty much the equivalent of a Law & Order episode, but I guess that's what a good mystery book is supposed to be. Connelly is definitely one of those writers that consistently delivers enthralling yarns that are reliable in quality and that all the questions will be answered in the end. Not a bad thing, I guess. I mean, I keep reading them... So yeah this one was pretty good. No partners turning out to be psychos or good guys turning out to be bad guys. good stuff.|
|04.29.16|| Horrorstor||Grady Hendrix||Horror story set in an Ikea-esque retail store. I liked this for the most part, although some of the more nitty gritty "this is scary" parts get a tad too outlandish to properly picture in my mind. But still, I like the idea and the book design is pretty clever with putting some catalog-esque props in the beginning and referencing chapters on the cover itself. That's pretty cool. all in all pretty good.|
|04.22.05|| Window Seat||Gregory Dicum||A sort-of travel book with lots of satellite photos anddescriptions of North America's geological history and how to view it from above. For the most part, it was pretty interesting and appealed to my interest in just how old Earth is and how young Man is... but it needed more pictures and less environmental stabs in each chapter. Yes, I know we cut down trees and fish and effect our environment. Things like that are what allows dirty hippies to fly around on jetplanes all the time and write books about it. Get off my back.|
|04.21.13||The Walking Dead: Compendium Two||Robert Kirkman||Issues 49-96 of The Walking Dead comic. I remember at the end of the first gigantic tome being really sad to stop because so many people had just died and shit was going down. Plenty happens during this second chunk but it leaves off at a more fitting ending. The thing I perhaps liked most about this was a sense of progression in the world. People are starting to get their shit together. I can see the series ending after civilisation returns and really the whole arc could be Rick's story in some spiritually exploded version of World War Z. While all this other stuff was going on, this series is Rick's day by day. Or everything will turn to shit or something who knows. It a captivating read and if Compendium Three ever comes out I'll probably get it but I hope it ends at some point. Also, the book didn't get any lighter. I sped through it on a weeked just so i don't have to carry it around any longer than i have to.|
|04.21.05||The Contortionist's Handbook||Craig Clevenger||Another recommendation from Chucky P. Aside from it being yet another story of a drug addict, it's a really good book about a guy who forges documents and changes his name and fools psychiatric evaluators into thinking that he isn't a genius drug addict. Very well written (in that Chucky P vein), very entertaining, and very quick. I liked it a lot.|
|04.18.15||The Burning Room||Michael Connelly||I'll be honest: this was a breath of fresh air after the density of Perfidia. Connelly's books at this point are kind of mostly soap opera for me. That's not to say that they're all about interpersonal relationships and torrid intrigue but since they more or less come out every year and follow a closed set of characters who age more or less in real time... I read the books more to check in on Harry Bosch's life rather than care about the specifics of whatever case he's on. And this book, whether it's me projecting or actually true, felt that way to me. There are two cases in this book, both of them are not terribly interesting and neither of them have particularly satisfying conclusions but I still think this is a good book because the prose is still authoritative and polished and... you know... you get to know Harry's latest partner and get a little check in on what his daughter's up to and things like that. I do feel like this one lacks that page-turning fire that Connelly's best books possess and would never recommend this as an entry point to the author or the character, but for me the fan of the series I didn't have any problems with it. I did really see the end coming even though it comes off as bit random and rushed, but if it ended any other way this book would REALLY feel like filler.|
|04.18.13||The Deep Blue Good-By||John D. MacDonald||Picked this up based on an interview with George Pelecanos. I always thought that I would like the old pulp novels and even have a pretty hefty collection of Hard Case Crime books that I've yet to dig into. Turns out I liked this one a lot. Knowing it was written and set in 1964 colored everything. Internally I heard Robert Evans narrating for me like The Kid Stays in the Picture. Every word oozed sunny hot sweaty Florida, masculine fuckrod testosterone, and snide social commentary. And for once the prose was hard-bitten enough to justfity character names like Chookie McCall. I'm not 100% sure I'll read the next 16 or whatever, but perhaps sooner or later I'll again dip into this worlds. Fun book.|
|04.18.12|| Hollywood: 1940 - 2008||Marc Wanamaker||A more-or-less sequel to an earlier book i "read" called Early Hollywood, this one is basically a photo album of various buildings in the Hollywood area from 1940 onward. Super dry; visually interesting, but also kind of disappointing because it's so dry and the pictures are small and the book itself is small and I wanted my experience to be a little better. It's definitely my expectations that led me down this road of disappointment, but still. As it is, it's good reference material I guess, and it all pads out my impressions of the L.A. Noire video game or various location-shot film noirs that I watch. Moderately interesting if you like pictures of old buildings :)|
|04.18.10|| Last Night A DJ Saved My Life||Bill Brewster, Frank Broughton||This is purported to be a history of the DJ written by two journalists for Mixmag. I largely liked it with a few exceptions. first, the negatives:
Well, really first, a caveat: I'm aware that there's a "Centenarian" edition of the book out that supposedly updates the book and expands several topics into new chapters. I didn't read that version, so the things I didn't like could certainly be fixed in this new edition. OK.
-It was written in 2000, right after dance music was a huge fad in America and the DJ seemed to be at the top of the world. So With 10 years of relative calm (at least here in the states) in mind, a lot of the prose has a sensationalist slant that probably traded on the excitement and media attention of the time. Subsequently, there are chapters like "The DJ As Outlaw" and "The DJ As Superstar" that are a bit overblown.
-the history is great until it hits detroit techno. Then it accelerates to the point where it's basically a list of sub-genre names with paragraphs attributing their origins. The writing for Techno also seems pretty derogatory.
-It's written by journalists. So everything has to have a snide remark worked in or some casual judgement involved. They also overly rely on these genre labels while at the same time purporting all music to be the same. For having all of these different labels, they didn't do a stellar job of explaining their differences. But mostly it's just the writing. After a while, it grates on you as if you had just read 30 issues of Mixmag.
-The reggae chapters also seems a little short.
Now the good:
I had never heard of Northern Soul before. It was cool to learn about that. In general, the actual history stuff is great. It also gives a pretty good sense of how messy and organic these musical movements were. It's easy to classify them differently and imagine that each happened in their own isolated world but this book gives a really good sense of how the music morphed more smoothly and seamlessly than their labels imply. The early days of Hip Hop I was more familiar with but they still threw a few tidbits in that were new to me, mostly dealing with drugs. It's actually funny how directly the authors tie everything so directly to drugs.
I also appreciated the attention paid to disco. I knew it wasn't all about Bee Gees but had no idea the extent of its underground movement before Saturday Night Fever hit screens. I suppose this is ridiculous to state but I also didn't know how gay it was. I mean, Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles being dj superstars is one thing, but them getting their start by spinning at a gay bath-house in the 70s is another! It actually motivated me to netflix a doc on Levan to check out the Paradise Garage in more depth and see what I missed.
All in all a good read. I thoroughly enjoyed it.|
|04.17.09|| Watchmen||Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons||notes later!|
|04.17.07|| Rebels on the Backlot||Sharon Waxman||A very reportage-y book about the group of young filmmakers and their careers heading toward the landmark year of 1999. It starts with Tarantino's early days through Pulp Fiction then splits off to follow David Russell's Three Kings, Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich, David Fincher's Fight Club, Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, and ends with Steven Soderbergh's Traffic (and all the pre-emptory stuff with their careers) as well as glancing off the work of Alexander Payne and Kim Pierce. The author seems to really love grouping these people together and calling them rebels (I think she calls them that like 147 times in the book), but aside from that and a few funny little factual errors (like calling the Beastie Boys a rock band or saying the skyline at the end of Fight Club is NYC) and a decidedly gossip/catty outlook, this book was pretty interesting. She interviewed a ton of people and wound up with a pretty complete view on certain events like Clooney's troubles with Russell on Three Kings and Anderson's troubles with Rysher and Hard Eight and the general producer-heavy turmoil that went into getting all these rearkable movies made. It's almost too much for me with all the studio politics and mergers and trials and tribulations... it makes getting amovie made with a major studio about as likely to happen as winning the lottery. I guess a certain outlook to that would be to have a greater sympathy for the movies that do get made but... I kinda see it more as further signs of how messed up hollywood is nowadays. I don't think it was ever easy... but i think american cinema is in pretty dark days... For as good a year as 1999 was, I think it may be somewhat responsible for the way things are now. It's interesting to note that almost all of the movies mentioned here didn't make any money. Pulp Fiction and Traffic were pretty much the only ones. Sure they are all great movies, but a lot of people got fired over them and I think maybe we're still caught up in the conservative rebound of that coming on ten years later. sure that's not the only factor... but I'd be much more assured if these great movies actually found audiences... something I'm not seeing with movies like Children of Men, The Fountain, and Science of Sleep.
I have to think audiences were smarter in the 70s. or TV was worse.|
|04.16.16|| Missing Reels||Farran Smith Nehme||I put this book on my wishlist because Entertainment Weekly liked it and it's a book about movies and NYC in the 80s. For some reason, I had it in my head that this would follow suit with other books like Night Film and Flicker. However, 20 pages into the thing I realized that this would be nothing like those other books. For starters it's not a thriller. It's kind of a romance, but not in a harlequin way (at least not how I picture a harlequin way to be). There's definitely some measure of fantasy fulfillment going on here by the author but that's not a bad thing. It's also written very well and carries you to a place that glitters with nostalgia and romanticism, which is not exactly people's first thought of NYC in the 80s (although it is mine). So in that regard, I was with this book from the get-go. I quite liked this even though it's not typical reading fare for me. Even the film-centric stuff orbits around silent films which don't exactly rev my engines, but still... all the stuff about lost films, celluloid nitrate, film history, and tracking down the history of a specific print all resonate deeply with me. So yeah, kind of a chick book but I really liked it.|
|04.14.05|| Arkham Asylum||Grant Morrison, Dave McKean||I reread this because i found it when i was unpacking and wanted to give it another glance. I think this is my first real exposure to McKean's work (other than quick looks at the Sandman covers in the comics shop) and I remember being really affected by this when i first read it. It's still a very atypical Batman tale, and the artwork is still really creepy and great. Especially the joke with his red-irritated face. Gah. Still a really good read, probably a highlight from my comic collecting days.|
|04.14.05||The Ice at the Bottom of the World||Mark Richard||A super short book of short stories. It was recomended by Chuck Palahniuk in his essay about "burnt tongue" language, writing the way people talk which may not be grammatically correct. As an example of that, this book is great. However, the language is SO messed up that it takes much longer to read and make sense of. Throw in the fact that some of the stories don't really have a point anyway (they sort of resemble prose-poems), and it gets a bit crazy. I guess this is what they call smarty-pants writing.|
|04.12.12|| L.A. Noir||Alain Silver, James Ursini||These guys have been writing, editing, and commenting on noir since forever. I have a whole series of Film Noir readers sitting on my shelf that I've never actually slugged through, and listened to a heaping handful of their DVD commentaries, particularly for their Fox noir films. It's clear that they are very knowledgeable about the genre but the writing is styles as formal criticism that reminds me of high school term papers rather than anything I'd choose to read for fun. I mean, it's not entirely fair to them since all criticism feels that way to me, but when compared to Eddie Muller's Dark City, this stuff is very dry.
In any case, this book is pretty short and mostly consists of pictures. I got it as a gift I think. The chapters cover different areas of LA county and summarizes the history of the area followed by some discussion of certain films that were shot or took place there. I'm a real sucker for location shooting especial in film noir when a lot of those locations don't exist anymore, so I enjoyed that aspect of the book. The film discussion constantly tied back to locations which I appreciated. Furthermore, a lot of the film stills used actually showed the locations which was pretty cool. Since it was so short, I'll couple this with a similar book before moving on to a different subject.|
|04.12.07||The Road||Corac McCarthy||Post-apocalyptic goodness from Cormac McCarthy, where the landscape matches the prose. Really good book, but everyone already knows that. Sad but really good. I really like how he writes with such sparse and whittled down sentences. no commas or quote marks or anything... just sequences of words that read musical and each hold major significance. really great reading.|
|04.09.08|| Void Moon||Michael Connelly||A non-Harry Bosch book from Connelly. To be honest I had a real hard time getting into this story at the beginning. It's about a female ex-con that was busted for breaking and entering when her lover/partner died after getting caught in a hotel room heist from a Vegas casino. Too many elements seemed way too fakey for me to care... plus the heavy is completely two-dimensional and also pretty fakey (he's a magician as well as a "handler" and psychopathic killer).
However, after maybe the first third, I started getting a little more into it if for nothing else than Connelly's writing is so easy to read (much like Stephen King's) and I was curious enough to see how things worked out. Definitely not one of his strongest though.|
|04.08.12||The Fifth Witness||Michael Connelly||Another Mickey Haller book. Aside from kind of seeing the last twist just because the book kind of doesn't work any other way, I enjoyed this one. I certainly enjoyed the pace and size after spending half a year in Westeros. Thanks to an Easter trip and a nap that I wasn't tired for, I ended up reading half the book in one day which made it fly by and seem even faster paced. Connelly really nails the momentum of his narratives and his books couldn't be easier to read.
The specifics are sometimes a bit meh. Here he's being a little topical with the foreclosure stuff and a firm named ALOFT standing in for certain real-life counterparts, but that's ok. why not. It was a fun read, exactly what i was going for as a palate cleanser.|
|04.07.05|| Sin City: The Making of the Movie||Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez||Aside from the script, the book has plenty of little sidebar quotes from most of the people involved talking about their characters or Miller or other actors, then in between acts, it has whole segments on the wardrobe, cars, make-up, props, and the digital effects used to make the look of the film. These segments are all very very interesting and answer most of the questions I had. There's also tons of pictures, like the moldings for the knives and throwing star swastika and stuff, plus little tidbits strewn about like how Miho's swords are actually on loan from QT. They are the Crazy 88s swords from Kill Bill. Overall, it's a very interesting and quick read that supplements the books and the movie well. Plus it's signed!|
|04.05.05|| Off Season||Jack Ketchum||I guess it started with Deliverance. Since then though, the feral inbred cannibal mountain man tale has been pretty pretty tepid, at least on the silver screen. A quarter of the way through this book I was thinking "WHY hasn't this been a movie yet! It'd be great!" Well, A hundred pages later and i know full well why it hasn't been a movie, and probably wont be a movie anytime soon. This book is pretty extreme, filled with things that would never translate well to film like evil children getting decapiated and women getting gutted and frothing out guts and blood into a steaming metal bin. This is really what it takes to make the ol' feral inbred cannibal mountain man tale scary, and it accomplishes that with great fun. It's only 200 pages but they are vicious, wicked pages.|
|04.02.07|| Killer Instinct||Jane Hamsher||Jarrette lent me this book about the making of Natural Born Killers written by one of the producers. It's a pretty typical tell-all, meaning it's really exciting and riveting and lots of dirt gets dished and behind-the-scenes stuff about relationships that never appear on DVD commentaries and featurettes.
I did a little bit of googlechecking afterward to see what's happened to the two main people in the ten years or so since the printing of this book... I guess there was a couple dropped lawsuits and Stone got pissed. I have to say though, that the biggest impact this book had on me was all the Quentin Tarantino stuff. Granted, this book read very much like a producer's spin on what all happened... from her point of view, Hamsher seems really reasonable at all times and everyone else comes off as incompetant and moody and childish and whatnot. But she includes a hand-written note sent to her by QT that really nailed it home for me. It must be tough to go from being so small all your life to being one of the biggest people on Earth in like a month, but reading about Tarantino's actions as he went through that transition, and how he dealt with his friends, was a pretty big eye-opener. It's even more shocking because it brings up issues of writing credit (which I'd heard of before but never really devoted too much interest in because of how messed up the Writer's Guild is with credit and how often you hear about writers disputes and arbitrations and stuff) for Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, which are still my favorite QT movies. So then it starts to make more sense why there seems to be such a divide between the albeit borrowed but still interestingly told and somewhat original Pulp Fiction and all the stuff that's come since then... which are basically homage-fests. It makes me sad to realize all of that.
Good book though.|
|04.01.05|| Based on a True Story||Jonathan Vankin, John Whalen||A run-down of a hundred movies that are supposedly based on a true story and how closely each actually earns that merit. Taken as specific reference to a particular film that you might be curious about, it's an interesting read with each movie given a few pages to list off differences. Read collectively as a whole book however, the message gets pretty old. The filmmakers change stuff, we get it. Also, on the occasional film that I already know a decent amount of backstory on, I was a bit disappointed to find some factoids missing. What it does have in there is interesting though, and it's written in a wry reportage manner... which is good as long as you're looking to bash the film for compounding characters or shrinking timelines. I perhaps would have preferred 50 films deconstructed twice as much instead of the 100 cursory summations offered here. Still though, it's an interesting read for people like me who always wonder what exactly is real and what's not.|
|03.31.18|| All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire||Jonathan Abrams||An oral history of my favorite TV show of all time. This was like an automatic home run for me. The only fear I had was that there wouldn't be anything new for me to discover since I've already read and discovered everything there is to read and discover about The Wire. But, to my delight, there were a handful of tasty nuggets inside, like how Simon pitched a whole politics-centered crossover show called The Hall, or how severely the show had been cancelled several times during its run. I thought the reason for the delay before season 4 was that they were waiting for the weather since the election had to happen in November... seems pretty naive in retrospect but whatever. Instead, they were all the way done and then resurrected and had to get the entire cast back! I had also heard that Dominic West wanted to spend more time with his kid but didn't know the extent to which he was almost off the show completely. It's funny how the show itself somehow gets credit for having what is arguably its main protagonist barely in season 4, when in reality it probably wasn't designed that way at all!
You also get another great thing with this book (and with all oral histories) which is a sense of voice from all the people involved. You can tell that Andre Royo is really chatty versus Ed Burns who probably doesn't like to talk at all. David Simon is super duper eloquent whereas Snoop speaks off camera just the same as she speaks on camera. I love that about this format. Unfortunately, you can also tell who didn't have much to say about the show or who's interviews were shorter than others, but i give great credit to everyone for showing up and to the author for going the extra mile to get what seems like everybody that's still alive.
My only real complaint is that the author isn't a superfan like me. While it was great to get a deeper dive on all the major events of the show, my ultimate fantasy is to have a book twice as long as this that really delves deep on the minor events too. Since this show is so rooted in fact, i think pretty much every episode could be dissected by the writers' room in terms of where this came from, how that happened, why this character says this or that. i would love that so much... but I guess that's an unrealistic request. I'm still very happy with what I got here, and it definitely makes me want to watch the show again!|
|03.29.17|| NOS4A2||Joe Hill||My first Joe Hill book. Pretty long, stylistically similar to his dad, I liked it pretty good but didn't love it. I'm not sure what it was that cooled me.. I kind of go back and forth about liking a bunch of the choices made... like tracking so much of Vic's life and such sparing use of this supernatural ability and the whole climax... but I didn't have any trouble getting through it and cared for the characters so I definitely didn't hate it. I dunno...|
|03.29.12||A Dance with Dragons||George R. R. Martin||Ahhh. I'm all caught up. Now begins the long wait for The Winds of Winter. The first thing I did after finishing this - before writing these notes even - was go online and read/listen to the two available chapters. It will be a long wait but I do have a few things (the remaining commentaries on the season 1 blus, season 2, and the new chapter that will be in the paperback version of this book (assuming it's not the one that he just read at TIFF)) to help tide me over. That, and reading 5 ~900 page books in a row kind of has me ready for a change.
This was my first book read on a kindle. Overall it was a mixed experience for me. The only real surprise is that I appreciated the backlit screen (kindle fire). Other than that, it was handy to not carry a thousand page hardback around but I don't like not having page numbers, the screen is too reflective for daylight reading, the battery only lasts about a week, and it's a bit weird to hold with the touch screen. And I probably checked the maps way less on this than i would with a paperback just because it was kind of a hassle to get there and back and the resolution on the map images wasn't great. Oh well.
Anyway, about the book itself: This definitely seems joined at the hip with the last one. That's to be expected considering how they were initially split off, but since this goes beyond where Feast ends it really minimizes Feast's placement in the series. It really seems like a half book. This one seems like a three-quarters book. Thankfully Martin included a few random chapters to catch up with most of the Feast characters but some of them were frustratingly spare (like Jaime and Brienne. ugh!) Still better than nothing I suppose, but I. WANT. MORE. NOW. Great series. This one really sets up the next book as being fantastic so let's hope it delivers.
At it stands, I feel like my enjoyment has been book 3, 2, 5, 4, and 1 doesn't really count because I saw the first season of the show before reading.
Ahhh, now the long wait begins.|
|03.27.15|| Perfidia||James Ellroy||Finally got through this one. I really loved Blood's A Rover but this one landed kind of cold for me. It's one of those deals where the premise sounds great on paper but the reality is kind of a let-down. Dudley Smith, Kay Lake, and Bill Parker as POV characters? A second quartet combining Ellroy's first L.A. Quartet with his Underworld USA trilogy? A huge thick 700 page tome full of cameos, referential characters, and younger glimpses of soon-to-be pivotal figures? SIGN ME UP. Unfortunately, I feel like this book suffers from two things: Being the first of a series, and being a prequel. One of the huge traps that prequels fall in to for me is that since you know where they end up then there's no real surprises. The feeling of fitting the last puzzle piece into place can be satisfying but not thrilling. So I kind of thought that nothing much happens in all 700 of these pages. There's a bit of a murder investigation and social tapestry surrounding LA right after the Pearl Harbor bombings but... nobody really changes, nothing really happens, nothing really resolves in any meaningful way. I suspect that as the quartet goes on we may see these events become more important but it's kind of weird... This book and The Cold Six Thousand are the only two Ellroy books (aside from his early stuff) that don't stand up on their own. In the first LA Quartet each book could be cut loose from the recurring characters and still be fantastic. I feel like most of the interest for me in this one was due to the characters being who they are. But that also sets up some judgements like... does it make sense that Kay Lake would do all this stuff and be who she is when The Black Dahlia rolls around? And then there's other stuff like Dudley's relationship to Elizabeth Short that's just plain bizarre. And finally... From what I understand Ellroy writes very detailed outlines for his books then writes his prose basically riffing on each plot point line by line. Sometimes this works well but here I feel like he riffed too much. It was often hard for me to understand what the hell was going on and I feel like that's kind of because there's not much happening. Books like white jazz or LA Confidential feel like so much is going on the author can't waste time with unimportant words. Here it feels like the opposite is happening... What the hell does Blood Libel mean? It's written A LOT in this book. All in all... I'm still a huge Ellroy fan... but this is kind of a miss for me.|
|03.27.14|| Chain Saw Confidential||Gunnar Hansen||Leatherface's personal account of the making and importance of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I found this to be greatly interesting and personably written. It had all the juicy details I wanted from a production standpoint and has inspired me to re-watch all the movies. And it's good to get some validation on Texas summer heat. It seems like a bunch of people who were born here act like it doesn't effect them but put them in an old farm house with no air conditioning for a few weeks and everyone loses their mind. Brutal heat down here. One day after work I'm going to have to walk over to Quick Hill Rd. and try to picture how it really was 30 years ago... so much has changed now but the road still sort of survives as one tiny stretch between an office complex and a business center. Anyway, great book.|
|03.26.16|| Inferno||Dan Brown||This time Robert Langdon is... eh... I really didn't like this much. The characters, plot, prose, and style all turned me off. At this point I think I'd rather Dan Brown just wrote illustrated history books rather than novels. He's great at explaining places and their historical significance, but there was relatively little of that here. Mostly just random chase scenes stiltingly written to inject mystery. Toward the end when the loose ends begin to tie up it read a tiny bit better but not enough to make up for everything else. After this and the fact that I can't remember ANYTHING about The Lost Symbol, I think my Dan Brown days are done.|
|03.26.13|| Los Angeles's Bunker HIll||Jim Dawson||A nice little book catalogging and kind of obsessing about this lost downtown neighborhood of LA that lives on in film noir. It sounds like it was quite a cool place with a bunch of 19th century Victorian mansions stuck onto a steep hill and slowly rotting through the years until the city literally erased it in the late 60s and replaced it with modern-day downtown skyscrapers. The first three quarters of the book is narrative examining its appearance in pulp novels and film noir then the last bit is a listing of movies that shot there. I have to say this read pretty well, but I really wish it was a TCM documentary so I could watch all these clips that Dawson painstakingly describes. It did get me to load up LA Noire one more time though to drive around in their virtual Bunker Hill to see how close they matched it (reasonably well. The streets are mostly right and some of the buildings are surprisingly exact, but for the most part they just have a few "Victorian Mansion" models that they plop down amongst standard brick buildings at random). Good book.|
|03.26.09|| Blaxploitation Cinema||Josiah Howard||Ugh, finally! I picked this up during the last Fantastic Fest and read though the initial essay and brief interview transcripts with 10 directors (fairly flat; he asks the same set of questions to each guy) pretty quickly. I then put it down with plans to read through the "complete reference" section before my proposed February cinematic marathon (that didn't last four days). So it took me like 2 nights to get the first 80 pages read, then something like 12 weeks to make it through the next 150.
Now, I know people don't traditionally read through reference guides cover to cover and this probably wasn't written with that in mind, but when your purpose of picking the book up is finding out about new films because you've covered the well-known stuff, how else are you supposed to go through this?
So it's pretty dry and gets a bit tedious and all the things you'd expect from reading a reference guide straight through. I accept all that. The reason why I didn't like this book is that the author didn't seem to actually like most of the movies he wrote about. Maybe like a dozen of the 300 or so movies actually got some positive words from this guy, and even the positive stuff never goes into the energy or spirit overflowing from the movies which is the reason why i love them. All the synopses are dry and repetitive and don't really make you want to see any of the movies. It's a real shame because this is one of the best genres for colorful excited prose.
A shame really. It seemed more like he wrote the book for some school assignment or feeling like it's something he "should" do rather than actually wanting to do it.|
|03.25.07|| Next||Michael Crichton||This one's about advancing genetic technology and the legal and financial problems that have sprung up to accompany it. As usual, Crichten's subject is interesting and his layman's explanations of complicated science are really great, but I think he needs to read a few less scientific journals and a few more novels because his actual prose writing is getting worse I think. He's always been dry, but at least in previous books there was still a strong story with... i wont say strong but at least human characters that you can follow through the book. With his last 3 or 4 books now, he's kind of moved away from that toward shallow excuses to posit his thoughts on subjects. And this one is a mess.
I heard him say in an interview that he deliberately structured the book as a series of disconnected stories that all clump together much like proteins onto a gene... and that's all well and good but it doesn't make reading it feel any less confusing and disjointed. I ended up spending the first few paragraphs of each of the 95 chapters trying to remember which little story thread we were picking back up and who these people were again, only to remember for about a page before a new chapter starts. It wasn't until today when I sat down and read 70 pages at a time that I really fit all the generic characters and everything that was happening into my memory and could follow along with any sort of interest.
But, story and structure aside, there are some good ideas and really scary scenarios in here, particularly the case of a company hiring a bounty hunter to abduct your child because he shares the same cells (which the company legally owns) as your father. Yikes! There's also a lot of transgenetic animals here like talking apes and parrots that can do math and stuff like that... stuff that seems kind of laughable at first but then gets more interesting. I guess Crichten couldn't really tell all the little anecdotes and stories in a conventional narrative, but I do wish reading this was a bit less like reading the text crawl underneath a news broadcast.|
|03.17.11|| Lucky Wander Boy||D.B. Weiss||A twentysomething starts cataloguing all the classic video games of his youth until he gets obsessed with a mysteriously-hard-to-find surreal title and it takes over his life more or less.
I actually got a huge Flicker vibe from this book, except with games rather than movies. It kind of has a dark edge that gets weirder and darker as the book goes on. It starts off typically post-modern but does a nice recursive twist where you start to realize that aspects of the game are reflected in the book itself until finally the last stage of the book is exactly as the last stage in the game.
I liked it. The second half went much faster than the first. It didn't quite have the narrative kick in the balls that Flicker had for me since the recursive twist is gradual and therefore not really a surprise but still, it left me with a somewhat grimy feel which is refreshing - to be affected by a book like that.
|03.17.10|| Flanimals Pop Up||Ricky Gervais||Random gift... Can't really say much for the writing or illustrations (guess they're for kids? mean-spirited kids?) but I do like the paper engineering going on in pop-up books. Didn't some movie use this technique somehow? like a Michel Gondry type movie or something? Anyway, pop up books would make a great credit sequence or something like that.|
|03.13.18|| Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor||Tim Lawrence||An exhaustive account of what was going on in NYC from 1980 - 1983. I don't think I've read a longer, more involved book about such a specific subject. It took a while to read and sometimes felt like a college textbook rather than something someone would take on for pleasure, but now that I'm through it I feel like it's a great book and I really learned a ton about what the nightlife was like back then. In the great Venn diagram of my late 70s/early 80s NYC obsession, this one overlapped several other areas, most notably the birth of hip hop and early seminal DJs like David Mancuso at The Loft and Larry Levan at Paradise Garage. But what this book does is mash everything together to give a better contextual sense of day by day with the disco stuff, the art scene, new wave, no wave, hip hop, rock, and how everything swirled together in one homogeneous mixture. Really the only thing I didn't get a good sense of what the visceral experience of being in some of these clubs. The more salacious aspects of the lifestyle back then are largely avoided, with the barest mentions of which drugs were popular and how prevalent casual sex was back then, so as I read about these parties that would go through until noon, 2, 3pm the next day and have to wonder who these dancers were that could stay up that long. But from a largely academic standpoint, I think I got about as good of a sense of the scene as anyone who wasn't there can get. I love that the author goes so far as to list out typical songs that some of the DJs played and, in Levan's case, how they changed from year to year. Plus now I know what people are talking about when they mention places like Mudd club or Danceteria as well as how many of the other DJs of the time - people like Jellybean Benitez or Francois Kevorkian - fit into the bigger picture. Overall, it was a long dry detail-oriented read that left me feeling super informed and enlightened. I liked it a lot.|
|03.09.13|| Inside HBO's Game of Thrones||Bryan Cogman||Since the show is returning at the end of the month and I got this for Christmas I thought it would be a good time to refamiliarize myself with the universe. The book is fairly light with lots of pretty pictures and layout design (for instance, Viserys's page has beads of gold dripped on the background image) but not a huge amount of text and what little there is in the form of oral history. You can almost imagine the behind-the-scenes Blu-Ray extra playing as each voice talks with occasional concept art or production still overlayed on the dialogue. Not that it's a problem, you just don't get much substance. I imagine Cogman asked all involved to email him whatever they wanted to say for the book then he just edited it all together. The meatiest bit came on almost the last page from the guy who created the Dothraki language, I suppose just because he hasn't really had a chance to explain his work in-depth anywhere else. But still, I wasn't expecting some complete production diary or anything like that; it was a nice reintroduction to all the characters getting me ready for Season Three which is really all I wanted so that's cool.|
|03.08.11|| Completely Mad||Maria Reidelbach||It's funny how a passing interest in a corny magazine during childhood has manifested in me reading three full-length books on the subject.
This one is the most "objective" to date. The text itself reads pretty dry, especially compared to Dick DeBartolo's zany account. However I think you need the facts and figures to go along with the personality to complete the mental image so I found it worthwhile. They also had plenty of Mad bits and a cover chronology spattered throughout to keep it interesting. I think all in all I enjoyed DeBartolo's book more but this still has enough info to justify reading. It makes me wonder what an issue of Mad is like these days.|
|03.06.10||The Lost Symbol||Dan Brown||I don't know how long ago I read Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons so I don't know if this book differs from those or remains true but this was a really mixed bag for me. I suspect this one resembles his previous works quite a bit and it's just that the excitement of historical hidden symbolism has worn off a bit but... Dan Brown is really not a great writer. It's odd but I think I would've preferred this book as non-fiction. If this book was "Hi, I'm Dan Brown and over the next 300 pages I'm going to detail some of the more interesting facts and symbols of Freemasonry, Washington DC, and an extended chapter on Noetic Sciences" instead of this historical thriller starring a bunch of people who are not believable put in equally unbelievable situations, I would have enjoyed it much much more. Instead, I have to sift through arbitrary jumps in logic, tepid plot development, and an overwhelming amount of supposed cliffhanger chapter endings in order to get the occasional interesting factoid or exploration of topics that pique my interest. I don't get how Robert Langdon can be uncannily coherent one moment then not realize something so basic the next. Of course it's just Brown's way of flipping back and forth between Langdon racing ahead and behind the reader but it just comes off as frustrating to me.
Mostly this book comes off as not having enough historical intrigue to carry a whole book. This one puzzle of the masonic pyramid - the chapters dealing directly with it are Brown at his best - but there is way too much talking about the puzzle and arguing about it and wondering about it and talking about arguing about it in between the actual meat of the matter. All of this stuff is not fun to slog through.
And the noetic science stuff... I guess it's interesting but I didn't really care for it and thought it fit into the book in a really clunky manner. Also, all the talk of spiritual existence set up a twist that i absolutely hated.
To me, there are two kinds of surprises that you can have in books or movies or whatever. There's the kind of surprise where you're following along entertained or even trying to figure it out but can't really come up with a perfect answer then they lay it out for you and it either meets your expectations or exceeds them (heretofore known as the GOOD kind of surprise), and then there's the kind of surprise where they set up a situation that obviously makes you think one thing, and that thing is the most cliche unattractive boring waste of a thing you can imagine so you spend a bunch of time dreading that it might be the thing you're thinking about and hoping it's not but all the more getting feedback solidifying that your crappy idea of what's going on is real and then - Tada! - it's a not-as-crappy-version of what you thought it would be! I guess both kinds of surprises hopefully exceed your expectations, but the BAD kind is like saying "surprise! My answer is not quite as lame as you thought it would be!" instead of "surprise! my answer is awesome!". In the case of a bad surprise, you spend a LONG time during the book or movie thinking about crap, which is not fun.
So this book had a few BAD surprises for me. When I read the reveals I was like "eh, ok... I guess" which didn't do much to win me over.
It's just kind of a shame that Brown's grasp on things like prose and character don't match his research and puzzle-making skills.|
|03.06.07|| Flicker||Theodore Roszak||kind of a Da Vinci Code for movies but much darker, this book was pretty great. Except the ending made me very sad. It was actually a thing where I was reading going "come on! the pages are running out! it can't end like this, can it!? But it does, and that's what drives the ultimate tone of the book i think. I'd read that this was dark and disturbing but I really didn't think so while I was reading it... but now i do.
It's about a guy who falls upon an obscure horror director and sees hidden flashes of talent. In fact, they're subliminal techniques that are very powerful, leading this guy on a career-length mystery to uncover the lost work and figure out how he did it. It then gets very grand in scheme.
The first 30-50 pages mirror very closely my recent experience at the Alamo... except it's trash films instead of art films and I'm not sleeping with the programmer. still though, Roszak communicateds beautifully the awakening to film and sets it in the perfect time: the golden age of arthouse theaters and influx of interesting new films from abroad. Later, he skims across the coming of 70s cinema, seeing it through an art film lover's eyes as bad taste and excess... which I guess it is. He throws a character in there to stand up for everyone that likes that sort of thing which again reminds me very much of the Alamo.
It does get pretty conspiratorial though. about halfway through it stops being about film culture and history and starts getting more and more religiousy... my interest somewhat waned at this point but never to the point of not wanting to see what happens next. It presents an alternative history to film that, while I don't necessarily believe, definitely could be true. I guess we'll see in 2014.|
|03.05.06|| Cell||Stephen King||I guess this is his first "real" book since finishing The Dark Tower (not counting The Colorado Kid as both a thematic and marketing shift for him)... It's ok. The idea is great - that at some point a pulse is sent down through cell phones to make anyone that's talking on them completely crazy - and dedicating the book to the likes of Richard Matheson and George Romero set itself up very nicely... but as the book goes on these computer analogies come in that are typically vague. I don't know if King talked to more hardcore programmers to get these ideas but as far as my knowledge goes it barely makes sense. OK the rebooting thing sort of works, but the worm and "save to system" ideas don't really fly at all. Of course these ideas are coming from a child character, but still I think even the most nerdiest kid doesn't say "save to system" anymore. maybe in the 70s or 80s but not anymore. So there's that... and there's really no ending... or what mild ending he had was stretched and epilogued to death like King's earlier books. I don't know, it just wasn't very fulfilling to me.
And the first dozen pages of his next one, although being printed in King's handwriting was fun, don't seem that particularly interesting either. I hope he has another cool book in him. I'd hate for his career to be a life-version of one of his books: strong idea, great beginning, slow in the middle with a decent climax, then a long withering end that just won't quit.|
|03.04.05||The Big Sleep||Raymond Chandler||OK so it made more sense than the movie... still though, you don't really read a book like this for the plot. you read it for the prose, and all of those wonderfully obtuse descriptors and bits of tough-nosed dialogue. Still, I was surprised to find not all of his writing smart and tight. Some of it is downright sloppy, but I think that's what gives it its charm. A good book to be sure.|
|03.03.19||The Obsidian Oracle||Troy Denning||Book 4 in the Dark Sun Prism Pentad series. This one focuses on Agis and Tithian (the psionicist and the villain) and deals a lot with the Silt Sea and Dark Sun's Giants. I'm along for the ride at this point but I enjoyed this one less than the third book. Maybe on par with book two. I do like the flavor it's giving me of the setting, and I feel like some of the D&D books that I read as a teen were nowhere near this good, but I'm still not psyched enough to roll straight into the fifth and final book without something different in between.|
|03.03.14|| Of Dice and Men||David M. Ewalt||A Forbes writer recounts the history of Dungeons & Dragons along with his personal journey with the game. It's very well written and I think exemplifies what made the game fun to play and run for me when I was into it. It's a bit light on the exhaustive year-by-year history of TSR after Gygax's departure in favor of more personal experiences such as his experiment with LARPing and a chapter that feels kind of like an advertorial for Wizards of the Coast (I played AD&D 2E and it got a whole sentence of mention in the book), but for the most part I enjoyed reading it and it made me wish I could dabble again with friends... maybe some day.|
|02.29.12||A Feast for Crows||George R. R. Martin||Book 4! Down! Man, I've read like almost 4 thousand pages of this series straight. That's crazy. Anyway, this was a much slower more deliberate book than the last. In fact, one oould argue that not much really happened at all. I understand that this one is much maligned and I can see how people might be disappointed since they had to wait like 5 years and a lot of the most exciting characters weren't in this one at all. Going into it I was a bit sad because I knew I'd have to read the entire book before finding out what happened to some of the people, and as I neared the end I was sad because I was realizing that if the next book doesn't mention them this could potentially be where I leave these characters for a few years until the next book comes out. All in all though, I'm so invested in the series that I ate this one up just as fast as the last one. In the context of the series, I kind of admire that he released a book with just half the characters in which nothing really major happens. Sort of like a calm between storms. Of course, that assumes there will be another storm coming. Onto the next!|
|02.28.13||The Black Box||Michael Connelly||Connelly's 20th book or something like that. This time Bosch solves another case! Not that I demand constant escalation or anything, but this one kinda seemed like phoning it in just a tad. Maybe it's because I read it on my kindle so I have no real idea of a page count but it seemed kind of short and like not much happened. Surprising because his last few were on fire in my opinion.
The plot is some woman gets killed during the riots and twenty years later Bosch picks the case back up. It leads out to Modesto where bad guys get found.
Oh well, there's hopefully always a next book with Connelly so maybe that one's more notable.|
|02.21.11||The Walking Dead: Compendium One||Robert Kirkman||The first 48 issues of the comic. I thought the show was kinda slow but now respect it a bit more for diverging from the books so quickly (perhaps). It took me a little while to get into it but by the end i was heavily invested. It kind of sucks that it'll probably be at least a year until compendium two is printed, but I'm not sure i liked it enough to spend more money in getting individual books or comics. It was good though; I enjoyed reading it. Although it should also be said that this was maybe the heaviest book I've ever read. The glossy pages were nice but god damn. I think I ended up speeding through it faster over President's Day weekend just so I wouldn't have to lug it around work for another week. And I thought Under the Dome was bad.
So yeah, I kinda don't have much to say about this, except that I liked it and will probably continue to watch the show now just to see how it adheres/diverges from the books.|
|02.15.11|| Tales of Times Square||Josh Alan Friedman||So... some time after I really started hanging out at the Alamo... maybe QT 6 or once I took up residence as a Weird Wednesday regular, a mild obsession formed around the "heyday" of 42nd street and its beloved grindhouse theaters. These seemed to really stand out as the epicenter for the type of movie lauded every wednesday at midnight. I had a real problem imagining a theater that ran 24 hours a day playing this type of stuff. My own theater memories consisted mostly of mall cineplexes and vague childhood drive-in double features where still the B-movie was nothing more than a second-run hollywood feature paired with the A-movie (License to Drive and The Lost Boys, Batman and Friday the 13th Part 7, huh as I type these out they do seem like the late-80s equivalent... never mind!) so I couldn't even imagine a world where a movie like Black Caesar or 2000 Maniacs could be on any sort of marquee, much less nestled in a block full of similar theaters showing similar films ALL NIGHT LONG.
So then, in an effort to learn more about the films and the stretch of NYC affectionally referred to as "The Deuce," I real Sleazoid Express by Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford. Bad mistake. That book completely iconifies late 70s/early 80s Times Square as film-geek heaven, hints of danger in some novelty way, occasional mentions of seediness in good-natured free and fun gold-tinged nostalgia, but most of all crazy insane films that are awesome. After reading that book I tried to construct a quick layout of the block from Landis & Clifford's descriptions. They structured their book to talk about certain exploitation genres paired with specific theaters, as if each theater only stuck to one genre (a notion that I've read on the internet to be false, with the exception of maybe one of the theaters being a kung-fu house for a time). Each chapter of their book starts with a deliciously brief description of the theater itself and what sets it apart from the others. This was the gold vein in between the film write-ups that make up the bulk of the book (not to take anything away from the film talk. it's a great book for getting excited about these films in much the same way as Eddie Muller explores film noir in Dark City). After reading (and Jotting down my little mental map) I wanted more.
That led me here. According to the jacket and amazon reviews, this book was exactly what I wanted. Josh Alan Friedman apparently spent all his time in Times Square during the "golden era" and wrote a whole book about how awesome it was. It would have extended and expanded chapters about each theater with complete archival-level records of films that ran and month-by-month accounts of their degradation and eventual death, all with a new Afterward that would presumably talk about the Disneyfied castration that occured in the last decade.
Well... not quite.
A lot of this book was a wake-up call for me. It turns out, Friedman wrote for Screw magazine so the bulk of the book deals with the sex trade that, as it turns out, completely saturated Times Square everywhere around the theaters. The theaters were just a single ingredient in the scummy toilet bowl that was Times Square. Chapter headings that I thought might eventually get to the theaters passed by them even faster than Sleazoid Express, with barely a sentence or two thrown to each movie house and not a single movie discussed.
This book took some re-adjustment. The abundance of sex - not Penthouse magazine sex or even Hustler magazine sex but Screw magazine spent-condoms-in-the-gutter junkie depressio NYC-accent sex that is... not hot at all - was a little off-putting. The sections on stripping and prostitution and especially the chapters on the peepshows are disgustingly complete. It's a real portrait of a very sad desperate industry that I can understand people despising. Yet even with them being downers, I really responded to the authoritative comprehension of these worlds that I'd never really thought about (and certainly chose not to dwell on with any attachment to the theaters). Even though the funniest chapter was not actually in Times Square I don't think (involving a bet between some goombas, Screw founder Al Goldstein and Larry Levenson, the proprieter of swing joint Plato's Retreat (inhabiting the original home of the Continental Baths where soon-to-be seminal House/Garage DJs Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles once spun)). The extended account of Larry's marathon 15-orgasm night to prove his manhood is pretty hilarious.
Anyway, by far the best part of this book for me is titled "A Loner's Paradise: 24 Hours On The Square" where Friedman delivers a multi-faceted portrait of the geography, filled with vignettes of character and description, giving what's probably the most complete mental image of that place at that time as is possible. And since it was written back then, any nostalgia read in between the lines is purely projection. You do get a real sense that Friedman loves the neighborhood and feels its impending doom (redevelopment committees are repeatedly mentioned; it's clear that everybody saw the end approaching in its own slow but inevitable way), but the bad is mixed equally with the good. Junkie hoods ready to terrorize, con men lying in wait, frightening transvestite prostitutes ready to rob the shamed and curious. It read to me in a way that I suspect it really was: a Red Light district that was dangerous but also had character.
So it's safe to say that this book popped the delusional bubble of my 42nd Street obsession. In the end it's a great read but the pessimism of all the sex-trade stuff is pretty hard to take. It really has me in a mood to watch Taxi Driver and Midnight Cowboy again to actually see this stuff in motion (why don't these books include more photos!? It's always infuriating to repeatedly refer to the same 8 shitty photos over and over again looking for new details that are not there). It's also time to read something completely different that doesn't make me feel dirty.|
|02.13.07|| Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go||George Pelecanos||The last of the Nick Stefanos books from Pelecanos. I was really expecting some sort of huge turn to end the character with, like he'd try to go on the wagon or something, but instead it's a pretty downer ending with him just keepin on keepin on. I liked this book as well but, along with the previous two, don't think it's as good as his multi-perspective books. I think of the three I prefer the first, A Firing Offense, for it's lengthy introduction of non-PI type stuff. I'm glad to have read them though and look forward to diving into his next series of four... but first I think i'm going to change it up a bit and read someone else for a while.
Great title though.|
|02.12.08|| Blaze||Richard Bachman||Confessed "trunk novel" that Stephen King found and cleaned up and decided to release as a Bachman book because it didn't quite fit the Hard Case Crime mold. It has the simplicity and brevity that I like about the early Bachman books (which, yes, does include Rage. I hate that King pretends that story never existed), but this felt a little closer to Roadwork than Long Walk or Running Man. It's basically a character study of a big retarded guy flipping back and forth between his history and him kidnapping this baby in a snowstorm. It reads easy enough like all King and at least it has an ending but, it's pretty thin plot-wise. Just OK.|
|02.12.05|| Invisible Monsters||Chuck Palahniuk||This is the last Chucky P book to read... I'd told it was his best so i sort of saved it for last. I guess it was built up too much for me because I found it a bit disappointing. it's a bit thin and the end wraps up a bit too cleanly for me... but oh well. I also wonder how much of him went into this book, knowing he's acey deucey. Choke's still my favorite, then Survivor.|
|02.10.10||The Scarecrow||Michael Connelly||It's hard to tell whether I am just more and more hooked on Connelly's books or if he's getting better as a writer but, whatever the reason, I couldn't hardly put this book down. Revisiting The Poet's protagonist and darker tone, Connelly does a great job carrying us through his narrative. Somewhat often, I get the sense from a lot of authors that they aren't technically savy at all. They'll describe doing a google search as something like "He pecked the words 'crime' and 'punishment' into the computer and executed the search program" and I'm never sure if that's the author trying to describe it in language anyone (including idiots) can understand of ir it's the author not being familiar enough himself to communicate authentically. Well, even though Connelly's been guilty of this behavior in the past (and even in the beginning of this book if I remember correctly), he quickly bones up because the Internet-heavy things that this story involves are pretty accurate. So that's cool.
I also liked the ending in particular and how it's a little messy and not quite tied up completely but at the same time not explicitly left open just for the sake of a sequel (which I was afraid of through the whole second half of the book). I'm not sure how he manages to keep coming up with new variations in structure and point of view but I really enjoy that he hasn't yet fallen back into familiar territory. Yet each of his books is very similar in style and tone and you can't imagine it being any other author as you read so that fine line must be hard to stay steady on. Connelly does an admirable job there.
So yeah... great read. I loved it.|
|02.09.10||The Smashing Book||Various||I've had Smashing Magazine on my list of RSS feeds for a while now and consistently find their daily articles well-written, nicely presented, and extremely useful. For web designers and developers, they are truly an invaluable resource. So when they released a book I bought it.
This book represents a basic bible of good design. Parts (chapters on typography and color theory) deal in areas where I've felt lacking due to formal education and now have a solid reference to turn back to whenever I need. A couple others (chapters on usability, interface design, and css layouts) were already familiar to me but now represent a collection of best practices that I can point to when arguing my points to bosses. Others chapters (establishing a brand, optimizing your site, increasing conversion rates) feel a little light (I wished they would've delved into more specifics when discussing search optimization for instance) but still proved interesting to read. All in all, about 75% of this book is phenomenal, with the remainder being still interesting enough to read. In my opinion, this should be on the desk of every web designer.|
|02.08.19||The Amber Enchantress||Troy Denning||Book 3 in Denning's Dark Sun Prism Pentad. It seems like this series is taking shape where book 1 introduced three main characters, the next three probably focus on one each, with the last somehow wrapping them all up. We'll see if that turns out to be true but the last one was all about the gladiator Rikus and this one centered on the sorceress Sadira. I initially thought I wasn't going to like this one since I found her to be the least intriguing character from the first book, but I wound up liking this way more than the last. It has some to do with how more of the over-arching story gets revealed here where the whole first book feels like it's just the inciting incident and the second book just shows hints of what's to come at the very end, but I also found the characters here more multi-faceted and interesting. I liked this enough that I plan to roll right into the next one, which is pretty good. It helps that I'm more and more into D&D these days, and Dark Sun continues to be my favorite setting and the world-building in these books is pretty great. Seeing new cities and locales, new glimpses of culture (this book gets into elves in a big way whereas the last one dealt with dwarves)... it gives me a deeper understanding of the setting as a whole, which I'm really enjoying.|
|02.07.14||The Gods of Guilt||Michael Connelly||Another good one. This time I kind of spent the whole book expecting a turn and was therefore pleasantly surprised when the bottom never really fell out from under Mickey. What can I say at this point other than I'm a big fan, find his books amazingly readable, and look forward to the next one! Also, I read this on my kindle which I really enjoyed. Not being firmly aware of how much book was left gave me an open-ended feeling in regards to the plot. I was sad to see it end.|
|02.05.13|| Silhouettes from Popular Culture||Olly Moss||A collection of old-school victorian Silhouettes of people like Frankenstein, The Dude, and Mario. I LOVE most of Olly's work and this is no exception. It's actually pretty cool since a lot of the subjects of these Silhouettes were also featured in Scott C's book so they make companions quite well. Genius stuff.|
|02.05.13|| Some Remarks||Neal Stephenson||A collection of Neal Stephenson's various magazine articles, short fiction, newspaper columns, and printed interviews. It sounds like a lot but really most of them are pretty short with the exception of a piece he did for Wired in the 90s called Mother Earth Mother Board where he travels across Asia following the installation of the (then) World's longest cable. It sits right in the middle of the table of contents and easily defines the book for me. All the other stuff is varying degrees of interesting and readable (the Salon interview reminded me how much good stuff there was in the Baroque Cycle, the article about Liebniz's Monadology vs. Newton's physics reminded me how impenetrable the prose was), but really my takeaway from the book is that Wired article.
It's about as long as his OS essay which they sold as a small book, and must've taken up the majority of its issue in Wired. I think I still have the issue somewhere in my parents' basement so someday I'll have to dig it up to look at the photos that originally accompanied because the book describes some exotic locales and really intricate technology that photographic reinforcement would really go a long way for. Even without the pretty pictures though, this essay kind of represents Stephenson at his best (or at least most Archetypal): heavy on technology, unafraid of deep scientific detail, intelligently funny, and ultimately remarkably rewarding. Some of the deeper bits make for a bit of a slog to get through but the sheer amount of information presented coupled with the masterful way in which he makes such a subject interesting had me walking away interested and knowledgeable in a subject I'd never given a single thought to before. Great stuff.
As mentioned, the rest of the book is pretty good too.|
|02.04.13||The Great Showdowns||Scott C||Scott C's artwork has steadily grown since my first exposure to his work in the form of Psychonauts. Nowadays I find his cartoon simplicity very charming and most of the time his subject matter suits me just fine. This book is a collection of watercolors depicting famous and often very clever movie rivalries, from Sigourney Weaver vs. the alien queen to John McClane vs. broken glass shards, it's all very bright and funny. I particularly like how most of the people, even when they're not people, are smiling. Yeah they hate each other and everything but they still smile for the camera sort of like. Cute little book and works well with this Olly Moss book I got with it. It's also the perfect palate cleanser after the dense headiness of two Stephenson books in a row.|
|02.04.07|| Nick's Trip||George Pelecanos||Pelecanos' second novel and part two of three in his Nick Stefanos trilogy. It's good and I had absolutely no problem reading it, but it still feels "early" and confined to what the author thinks should go into a mystery book. He's testing the waters a little bit though with having the climax happen maybe 100 pages from the end then completely switching to a different story until the very end when the other shoe finally drops.
The more I read of him... well I'm an unabashed fan now but when I think back to the first few of his that I read (The Derek Strange series), I really wasn't a rabid fan until Drama City (after that series ended). So now I'm thinking I like the freedom that his one-off books have compared to those with a continuous protagonist. More than just the multiple points of view (although I do really enjoy that. That's what made Hard Revolution great for me) Who Knows. I definitely liked this book, not trying to undersell that, but The more I think about Drama City, Night Gardener, and Shoedog (which he wrote right after this), the more I really really love those.
The next one will be interesting because it's after Shoedog, sort of a return to Stefanos to finish him off.|
|02.02.12||A Storm of Swords||George R. R. Martin||Third book in A Song of Ice and Fire and that series name finally makes sense. This one was pretty epic at over 1100 pages but really at this point, aside from the prologues and epilogues that slightly stray from the rest of the books' structure, all of these are seeming like one big long book to me now. The beginning of the next book felt like a continuation of the end of this just as the beginning of this felt like a continuation of the second book. Of course it still has climactic events and cliffhangers at the end but kind of every chapter ends with a cliffhanger so... the pages are just flying by.
I'm firmly entrenched now. I'm a fan. This book had some devastating surprises that, while reading the lead-up I almost expected because I knew things were going too well. Of course, it also has some good surprises too, but more often than not it seems like Martin is just twisting the knife more and more and the only good that happens is to make me root for a character that much more before he dies or gets tortured or whatever.
Considering how I've heard the next two books are really just halves of the same story, it seems to me that this book might stand as the pinnacle of the series just because it follows all the main characters and tells a grande complete chunk of the saga. It's also where the first inklings of how the series as a whole will might wrap up and gives the series a scope that until now had kind of been missing. Yes the first two books were good because the characters and world were good and Martin's plotting was great, but with this one I see the "Song" being formed and have a big enough understanding of ALL the characters to see who's playing for which team. It's very exciting.|
|02.01.06||The Poet||Michael Connelly||"Death is my beat." My first Michael Connelly book. It was pretty good until the end. I guess every mystery story has to have a twist ending but why does it always have to be someone that's been completely good and on the level for the whole book? I think everyone gives psychopaths and crazy-ass murderers too much credit.|
|02.01.05|| Sin City||Frank Miller||I'm lumping all seven books into one entry because i read them all together except the first one. All seven are amazing. the artwork.. man i am seriously considering getting a few pages blown up to poster size... for a black/white freak like me these books are as close to genius as you can get. the writing is awesome as well, tough yarns from a tough town that doesn't play nice. The women are beautiful, the guys are hard boiled, and the sound effects ring out *blaggg* *fupp fupp fupp* *shhkt* I really can't say enough good things about this series. i am SO pumped for the movie now.|
|01.29.05|| Hard Boiled||Frank Miller, Geof Darrow||ok this is just a graphic novel instead of a "real" book, but if i'm gonna log what I read, I might as well log it all. This was awesome, pure and simple. Each panel has so much detail I felt like i needed a magnifying glass to see everything going on. The story is short and pretty simple, effective and intriguing. The real awesomality of this comes from the artwork of the surrounding world though... all the little details paint a picture of some consumerist overpopulated crimespree future world gone awry... Very Snow Crash (there was even a tank-like pizza delivery truck in a few panels), very cool.|
|01.28.10||The League of Extraordinary Gentleman: Black Dossier||Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill||So... my memory of the second LoEG book was that the actual narrative was cool but then there was this 50-page travelogue cataloging every single fictitious locale ever created organized by continent. That was pretty tough to slog through, although when I made it to North America and read a fleeting Lovecraft reference I rejoiced because it was finally something that I recognized.
Well, about half of this graphic novel is epistolary material similar to the travelogue. Don't get me wrong, Moore does a great job of varying the format, style, and execution of all this stuff so most of it is short enough that it doesn't bog you down for too long (the Shakespeare play and beat novel were the toughest things for me to get through)...
The narrative part is pretty thin. The whole book is also pretty adult with lots of ink-drawn nudity (and a sequel to Fanny Hill with like double-X drawings), not that I have a problem with that.
Overall, it's kind of overwhelming. The book really makes me think of the word "genius" in terms of Moore, who seemingly has every literary figure in his brain. The story outlines a grand history of the League throughout centuries of history. I think I caught maybe 14% of the references. It's such an abundance that I literally could not count them. I think I saw Charlie Brown at some point... It's pretty insane.
So for Lit fans who are a bit pervy this is right up your alley. i remember the first two volumes being much more comic-y... this one is more like a grande compendium of references. Quite an accomplishment.|
|01.28.05|| Untitled||Mike Sebald||So my college buddy wrote a novel. It's not quite autobiographical but he certainly has taken the whole "write what you know" thing to heart. All in all, divorcing myself from my personal knowledge of him and his family, I'd say this is sort of like an unofficial sequel to Catcher in the Rye, where Holden grows up and finds himself no better off in his mid twenties than he was in his late teens. The book is a little oppresive with its depression but i think that's what Mike was going for. All in all, it's a decent portrait of a guy who doesn't know what to do in life, which i think might find an audience if it ever gets published. Needs a title though.|
|01.27.07|| Catching The Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity||David Lynch||So I had a bout of insomnia last night and ended up reading this book from 4:30am to 6:30am. It's absurdly short, with only 4 chapters stretching out to 3 pages long (most barely 1) and skipping all over the place subject-wise. There's some interesting movie-related thoughts in here as well as minor biographical notes, but mostly it's about how Trancscendental Meditation makes everything better.
As I read this, it started dawning on me that, over the course of the last few days where I saw Lynch present his new movie Inland Empire and answer questions there, saw him at a PBS TV show taping talking and ansering questions there, and saw him at a book signing answering even more questions (where I suddenly got low blood sugar and collapsed into people around me. That was strange), I'd practically heard Lynch read the entire book in the form of answers to various questions. There really wasn't that much new in here that I hadn't heard him speak in the past 3 days.
Oh well. At least now I have his book (signed) to look back on when I want to remember the time I got to hear him talk (and fainted).
The big thing I think this book is missing is the how. So many times he credits meditating as being something you can do to make things easier and better in all aspects of life. But he doesn't talk at all about how he does it! He even says he thought the idea was bogus at first because the saying "happiness is knowing thy self" doesn't tell you how to do it, but then he writes a whole friggin book on meditating and doesn't tell you how! Maybe that's why you have to pay to go to the meditation centers? Maybe the mantras are like protected secret phrases that you're not supposed to tell other people? I don't know... All I know is that hearing him speak and reading his book, Lynch made me curious about meditation but his book didn't help satisfy any of my curisities at all. argh.
But I guess that's David Lynch for you. In several "chapters" he mentions having epiphanies that ended up creating most of certain films, but refuses to say what those epiphanies were. The only film he really talks about with any specific detail is Inland Empire, which was very interesting to read, but still only 3 pages.|
|01.27.07||A Firing Offense||George Pelecanos||Pelecanos' first book. I think I'm gonna read his first trilogy of books following the character Nick Stefanos. Initially, I kind of put this idea off, since it sounded so much like Stefanos was clearly a placeholder for Pelecanos himself but now that I consider myself a fan of the author, I figured it was time to visit his early stuff.
The most marked difference in style here is that it's first person and all told from a single point of view. You don't get the converging characters and wonderful way that Pelecanos gets into everybody's head with different voices. Therefore, the book reads much more like a standard private eye mystery novel... except there are large parts of the book that have nothing to do with the case.
Instead, it feels like real fantasy fulfillment. The main character spends the first hundred or so pages working for an electronics retailer, first as management then spending a few days on the sales floor. Then he gets fired (as the title suggests) and goes down to Carolina... the beach, outer banks, all that stuff... and it's written like heaven on Earth. He has these very visceral experiences and really lives life for about a week. It's both every 9-5-ers dream of leaving the boring rigid structure of a career behind and going fishing and a great way to explain the draw of Nick not getting another plain old job after this.
It's a good book. I liked reading it. But it's clear that it's also an early book. It sticks a lot to standards of the genre that he later leaves completely behind.|
|01.25.16||The Crossing||Michael Connelly||Another year, another Connelly book. I liked this one ok. They read so easily that it seems more like just hanging out with his characters rather than riding some rollercoaster or anything like that. I suppose that's a good thing, even though at this point all his books have blended together for me.|
|01.25.11||The Way Home||George Pelecanos||I'm at the point now where a new Pelecanos book is a real treat to read. I've been waiting for this to come out in paperback and it went straight to the top of my reading queue. Something about his powerful straight-forward prose and uncomplicated lushly-characterd plot just breezes by. His books are a real joy to read at this point because no matter how deliberate the plot, there's a straight-forward comfort in the daily details he chooses to include and illuminating everyday actions from which the characters define themselves.
With this book, the plot elements are actually the weakest parts of the book. A hidden stash of money in a floor is kinda familiar, but even then the way all the characters deal with it is pretty interesting. I like how even the not-particularly-protagonizing characters have some empathy thrown their way. Lawrence and Sonny and Wayne are all deeper than they have to be. The ending is a little unecessarily heart-wrenching but whatever, another great book. Probably not my absolute favorite (although my memories of The Turnaround have really grown) but still great and I'd probably still rank it above his Nick and Derek Strange trilogies.|
|01.25.05||The Wire: Truth Be Told||Rafael Alvarez||A really decent companion to the exceedingly excellent HBO series. There's a little fluff with the episode summaries, and a lot of the other more interesting stuff was mentioned by David Simon in his commentaries on the Season One box set. The book also doesn't cover season three either, as it was published before it began airing. It was a much funner read that I'm letting on here though.|
|01.24.07|| Alfred Hitchcock: The Master of Suspense||Kees Moerbeek||a Hitchcock pop-up book. It's really quite clever, although pop-up books are too short for me to feel good about buying them (still feeling the sting on the nightmares and phobias books i bought a few years ago), however since this was a christmas gift I'm glad to have it. It makes a great coffee table book... if I ever get a coffee table.|
|01.24.07||The Hollywood Book of Scandals||James Robert Parish||I thought this might shed a bit more objective view on some of the more salacious things mentioned in the Hollywood Babylon books, but that turned out not to be true. I mean, the prose isn't nearly as pronounced as the Holly Babys are but every story still oozes with the author's personal judgement of events. Certain items, like Fatty Arbuckle and Rock Hudson, get treated with kid gloves while others (Roman Polanski, Bob Crane) are downright mean. This took me a long time to get through and I'm really glad I'm through with it. not a very good book, and I probably won't read this guy's Hollywood Book of Death cover to cover now because it's even longer and probably even less fun to read.
|01.23.17|| I Lost It at the Video Store||Tom Roston||An oral history of video rental stores' rise and fall. I found this very interesting but my main deal with it is it's so short. It's a tiny book and only 150 pages with crazy margins and big type. it feels like it's like 10,000 words or something. A lot of the people that participated (like James Franco, Luc Besson, JC Chandor, John and Janet Pierson) have just a handful of tiny quotes. Really the book belongs to Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino... partially because you also wind up getting the story of how Clerks and Reservoir Dogs got made. I wish I could've heard from Steven Soderbergh and... I dunno. I actually don't know because as short as it is, the book doesn't really feel like it missed anything. I think maybe the idea is only 150 pages big? That seems wrong, but who knows. I liked how they went into a lot of the business behind the VHS market and how it basically afforded that early 90s first wave of "independant film" like Sex, Lies and Reservoir Dogs and Clerks. It's fun to think about how Stripped to Kill 3 and Silent Night, Deadly Night 3 paid for Whit Stillman's Metropolitan. This also brought back fond memories of my own personal favorite rental store as I was coming of age and the countless hours spent in those moldy narrow aisles studying every spine and formulating my cinematic tastes. Wonder Book & Video it was called, in Frederick Md. Still open I'm happy to find out!!! No doubt due to its massive used book labrynth. Man, that place was great. Have a highschool project on Fritz Lang due for German class? No problem! They had Die Nibelungen on VHS. Interested in a Night of the Living Dead/Reefer Madness double feature on one cassette? We got you fam. Accidentally rent Lars Von Trier's The Kingdom tv series thinking it was just a long movie? You're Welcome. Anyway, this book was worth the price just for the trip down memory lane that it spurned, but I liked the content as well. I do wish it was longer.|
|01.22.10||The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks||Max Brooks||A small jaunt over to the world of graphic novels for a bit. This is a small book illustrating several zombie encounters throughout the world throughout history. I can see why Brooks chose this medium since there's very little written communication (it plays more like the narrated prologue in Magnolia) and more in the pictures. My only qualm is that it's very short (takes about a half hour to read through). The ideas and historical context is great. The black and white illustrations are pretty good... really it's a great little snack of Max Brooks zombie lore. I wonder what he's working on next...
I am still hesitant to pick up his Zombie Survival Guide since I heard it's not a novel. "Handbooks" like that are a little hard for me to get through and I keep picturing a "Worst Case Scenario" type deal that's more gimmick than anything else. World War Z was great though.|
|01.21.10|| Just After Sunset||Stephen King||I always like King's short stories and am very grateful that he releases them in collections such as this rather than letting them drift off to nowhere in whatever random publications they first appear. I thought what he said in his intro about how short stories are a different skill than novels was interesting and probably 100% true. That always struck me as odd and ultimately limiting in Chuck Palahniuk's work where he said he always starts each novel as a short story just to make sure it works. With King, his short stories are often more direct presentations of his ideas than his novels which are carefully wrapped around character and emotion. The Gingerbread Girl could've easily been twice as long with a little more back-story and context and sold as a novel but instead it's just about the situation and the set-up is minimal.
Having The Cat from Hell in there was really interesting. This was the basis for his segment of the Tales from the Darkside movie in the early nineties but was originally published very early in a men's magazine. It's very interesting to compare his style back then to now; I think it definitely shows how brutal and immediate he was back then, which is what comes to mind when I think back to Salem's Lot and Christine and the like, whereas his recent work seems more aware of writerly things like prose style and tone like Willa and Ayana. Not better or worse but definitely different.
My favorite story was probably N. I've only recently discovered how much Lovecraft was inspired by other writers so for this story to be more from Arthur Machen then Lovecraft I guess makes sense to me... but for me it's very Lovecraftian (probably because I've never read any Machen). It mostly addresses something that was heavily stressed in the Call of Cthulhu pen & paper RPG and therefore something that has stuck with me as a cool idea for the mythos: that the scope and alien nature of these great old ones or elder gods or whatever you want to call them - the things from another dimension that are not at all like us - are so strange and so alien that the human mind is incapable of understanding them. Spending too much time around them drives people insane. I always loved that, and in the RPG that's exactly what happened. The idea was you could run into something so terrifying that it would take your capacities away from you and you'd flee, or your character would suffer long-term effects of mental instability. In the story of N., it manifests as OCD behavior. That's pretty interesting. And the story builds. In fact, if I ever pick up the pen again, I may steal the idea for one of my characters!
Anyway, a fun read!|
|01.20.11||The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women||James Ellroy||Again I was wary. Through most of his career, Ellroy talked about the murder of his mother in support of every book and movie, even if it's to say that he's not talking about her anymore. Then here again he seems to be all about his mother.
Thankfully, it's not really. It treads different ground than his first memoir and goes over his entire life in the shifted perspective of his love life. There were hints and references in previous interviews that he was a lady's man, had a wild phase when he first found fame, etc. I saw a documentary about him years ago that included some footage of him and his wife in their kitchen. Their relationship seemed strong. She easily came off as an intelligent lively woman who matched his wit and stood up to his schtick.
After the strength of Blood's a Rover, I immediately jumped into this because there were things I wanted to know more about his life. His nervous breakdown, his divorce, how these characters of Joan and Karen got themselves inserted into his latest novel. In that respect, this book really delivers.
Ellroy goes over his whole career, referencing his previous books in context of who he was seeing at the time. It made me go back to my library and check to see who he dedicated each of his books to. I kind of realized that I'm completely not surprised that behind these great books was great turmoil and pain and that he's a pretty messed up dude. It also makes me really skeptical about his future. The last chapter is supposed to be very hopeful and positive but it kind of just comes off as the next phase of his neurosis. I hope it works out for him, but you know, I also want more great books.
So there's a bit of that contrast going on here. Feeling bad for his wreckage of a personal life but also accepting that it's a necessary part of making his good books great and sort of being ok with his problems because of it. A lot of his prose is kind of obtuse but it flows in a style that grants the reader comprehension even if they do not entirely understand every sentence. Reading the book is a lot like hearing him being interviewed. He somehow manages to answer each question in a way where you think he might be completely dodging it or just using it as an excuse to talk about whatever he wants to talk about, but ultimately he gets his point across.
Very interesting, if not entirely pleasant and hopeful read. I can't wait for his next one!|
|01.19.17||The Secret History of Twin Peaks||Mark Frost||The return of Twin Peaks looms closer and closer. Now Mark Frost, co-creator of the show, releases this novel. I really liked this. A major factor is the format. I'm a sucker for the epistolary (if that's what you call it) form... this book is structured like a dossier compiled by someone that FBI director Gordon Cole finds at a crime scene and assigns the reader to read and analyze. So it's journal entries, newspaper articles, personnel files, interview transcripts, etc. And the book is gorgeous: great binding, oversize pages, full color printing to really sell the different format of each document. The story itself goes all the way back to Lewis and Clark and the very first recorded not of the region. From there, it basically connects every consipiracy theory together and somehow ties it into either Twin Peaks itself or someone who was born there. It wasn't until toward the end of the book that I realized that the major character who we follow through the whole book might've also appeared as a minor character on the show. Now I'm really in the mood to rewatch the show, the movie, finally sit down and see all those deleted scenes... everything in preparation for the show's return in May. So while I can't say this was the most original story ever told, the presentation of the book really made me enjoy it a lot.|
|01.19.08|| I'm Just Here For the Food||Alton Brown||So after getting tons of kitchen stuff for Christmas and watching every episode of Good Eats, I thought it'd be a good idea to read Alton's book. It was an interesting read but to be honest most of the stuff was covered in greater detail on his show so if felt a bit more like a lite reference than learning anything new. Still, I imagine it's good to have around if I want to check something and don't have 20 minutes to watch the whole episode.
Now all I need to do is start cooking.|
|01.18.05|| Deception Point||Dan Brown||I am seeing through Dan Brown's mystique i think. This book had a horrible title that set me up to expect everything in the first half of the book to be wrong. whoa! huge surprise! everything told in the first half of the book was wrong! Wow he vaguely kills someone off. WATCH OUT! HE'S NOT DEAD!!!1 So... if you combine this with the fact that I just read Crichton's State of Fear, which also has a section taking place in a super cold environment, this book didn't do much for me. I will say that toward the end, when he forgets about all the science and just has stuff happen, it's much more engaging as entertainment. Unfortunately though, when his subject matter isn't as interesting as roman artwork or ambigrams, he comes off closer to a Crichton rip than anything else.|
|01.17.07|| To Air is Human||Bjorn Turoque||a whole book on air guitar? Yeah, well it's more of a memoir really of Bjorn Turoque, the hardest working man in air guitar, always a bridesmaid never the bride. I think the dude has competed in more official events than anyone else but has never been the US champ, much less the world champ. Still, he exudes airness and has taken on the "ambassador of air" role to spread the joys of air guitar around the nation, which is cool.
The first half of the book is loosely followed in the Air Guitar Nation doc, but the second half is all new stuff and pretty interesting for a fellow airhead. He explains his concept of Aireoke (which is pretty sweet), and different strange events and experiences that happened due to air guitar. It was a really fun read, i read it super fast. It also gave me a few new descriptions to use in my own write-ups for the second half of this season. pretty funny book.|
|01.16.09|| Digital Fortress||Dan Brown||So... I remember back when I read the three other Dan Brown books, talking to Trapper and hearing that he - who was more of a fan of Deception Point than I was - didn't like this one too much. I took that as a sign and didn't pursue it... until it popped up at a used book store for fifty cents. "why not? It'll at least be a quick read." It was, sort of. It was also as bad as I suspected.
I've never really thought of Brown as a good "writer" per se. Yes, his puzzles and descriptions of things are interesting, but his characters are paper thin and his prose is pretty tawdry. Sort of the equivalent of a Saturday morning serial... needlessly melodramatic and working very hard to keep you turning the pages as fast as you can. Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. In the case of Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons and even Deception Point to a certain degree, I was entertained pretty thoroughly by taking it at face value. The reason behind all three books working for me was the authenticity (or at least the perceived authenticity) of the research and the science. I'm not talking about believing the fantasy of the plot but... those statues are there and you can go look at them and let your mind wonder "what if..." and have a good time. Deception Point came off as a Michael Crichton-esque scientific romp as well with lots of science-y facts to keep my mind busy depsite the tepid mystery. Here though, it's about computers and encryption. While I don't know a lot about encryption, I do know more about it than the Vatican or Mary Magdalene or whatever. This was like a whole book's equivalent of that movie The Net. Pretty frustrating.
I could almost forgive it since it was released in 1998 but with Cryptonomicon coming out just a year later I can't give it any slack. I don't really believe that nobody knew who the NSA was in 1998, or what cryptography or anti-viruses or firewalls or any of that. Maybe Brown didn't know what these things were back then but I did after reading one issue of Wired. What's more is that Brown insists on describing computer interactions like someone who never uses one. Clicking a mouse is clicking a mouse, not interfacing the screen. Password-protected screensavers are not fancy. And there is no such thing as a real-time VR of one's network security, at least not to my knowledge.
So with so many technical things blowing my immersion out of the water, coupled with the same exact plot twist from Angels & Demons AND Da Vinci Code, I was way ahead of this book from page 8, so all i was left with was lurid chapter stops and unbelievable characters (in the i-can't-believe-they-are-real sense of the word, not the oh-man-thats-so-cool way). Pretty disappointing.|
|01.13.07||The Last Coyote||Michael Connelly||another COnnelly, started because I needed a paperback for the plane ride to/from christmas in tuscon. I can't really say I don't like these books because I keep reading them, but they are like eating comfort food. At least this one didn't have a fake suicide or boss who turns out to be a completely psychotic nutjob murderer. Instead, it's Bosch's investigation of his mother's murder, which is like the one story in the series that has to happen and is therefore not very interesting. Still, it wasn't as bad as I thought it'd be, and I'm liking the serial elements going on with the ongoing character and stuff like that. Since I read one book way far down the line in the series, I kinda know where he eventually ends up so it's fun for me to look for where certain characters or events come in that I know eventually get called back in that later book. beats starin at a wall.|
|01.12.11|| Blood's A Rover||James Ellroy||I hate to say it but My once-urgent love for James Ellroy and his writing has cooled since my reading The Cold Six Thousand. Not that I thought it was a bad book, but my lasting memory is that it was pretty hard to read and very long and for once kind of a chore to get through. Then came Destination: Morgue with somewhat repetitive nonfiction and probably his weakest fiction to date. Then I saw noir author/expert Eddie Muller at an Alamo screening and he mentioned doing a few screening gigs with him and kind of hinted at writer's block. Then I hear he's divorced. Then when this book came out in hardcover all the reviews had to talk about was his mental breakdown, obsession over a few women and how basically the book - high in expectations to begin with because it's the conclusion of his "Underworld, USA" trilogy which started off with American Tabloid, perhaps the single most quickly-read book of my reading career - has turned into some sort of tribute to these women and they both literally dominate the book since they are characters in it.
I was not excited.
But, much like Neal Stephenson's Anathem, when I actually finally picked this up and started reading, I was quickly reminded of why I loved Ellroy so much to begin with. This book is superb. The prose is expertly tuned and pared down in typical Ellroy style but not jack-hammering or extreme like Cold Six Thousand and Destination: Morgue. The historical context is charming and seedy and everything that makes this trilogy great. The characters are complicated and rich and maybe the most three dimensional that Ellroy's penned to date (having the book be "nakedly autobiographical" probably helps, with the character of Donald Crutchfield being a crew-cutted young peeper caught in the middle of all this crazy history). The women... yes they do end up dominating the book but not in any kind of vindictive or meta way that breaks from the story and the trilogy as a whole. I really should've trusted Ellroy more and been more excited to read this sooner because it's really great and made me love Ellroy again and now I moved straight to his next which I'll write about when I finish it.|
|01.11.19|| Gwendy's Button Box||Stephen King, Richard Chizmar||In reading the last King novella I figured there was no short story collection coming so I might as well read this on its own as well. I typically don't bother with every short story/novella release since they typically wind up in a collection sooner or later. Anyway, this was ok. I think I liked Elevation more since this was even more minor of a story. Add "Richard Farris" to the list of names that the man in black takes though, which is cool.|
|01.07.05|| State of Fear||Michael Crichton||Cricthon's style is, I think, starting to show through. He clearly picks a topic that he's interested in, does tons of research, then wraps a quick little thriller yarn around it in order to write it all off. However, even though the characters are thin and in some cases unbelievable, the plot still kept me flipping the pages and it's a pretty fast 560-page read. The appendices and bibliography in the back are almost exactly opposite to the popcorn quality of the novel, but that's always how his books are: fun adventures with readable science-talk in between. Oh yeah, it's all about environmental science and how wrong Global Warming is.|
|01.06.06|| Dead in the Water||Margaret Hoffman||I had this laying around... it's based on an interesting enough news item where someone was lost in an underwater cave for like 14 hours and got rescued instead of dying like the rest. This book though... this book is HORRIBLY written. like, I can't believe someone published it. just horrible. absolutely horrible|
|01.03.13|| REAMDE||Neal Stephenson||Great straight-up thriller. Long but not boring. Every moment is covered. I can't imagine a more complete moment-to-moment examination of these crazy events. Loved it, except for the end when the whole T'Rain thing and the helicopter pilot wasn't sewn up in the epilogue. I feel like the T'Rain thing kind of fell away like the haikus in Cryptonomicon. Other than that, what an amazing book.|
|01.02.19|| Elevation||Stephen King||It's funny how every once in a while these super short King books come out. Maybe he doesn't have enough other short stories to build a collection book out yet? Either way, I'm pretty sure I've read novellas longer than this one that weren't published on their own. On the other hand, most of his short works (I'm thinking The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and The Colorado Kid here) are good if not a bit forgettable and I think this fits nicely into that category. It's a nice, Richard Matheson-esque idea that is at times fun and others sad. It doesn't bother at all with the "why" (I personally think that's why he set it in Castle Rock where weird things have been happening for decades) and also doesn't really ponder the meaning behind anything. I think this feels more like a short story than a novel because there's really just one thought being expressed here: that life can be sweet if you look at it that way. Pretty good.|
|01.01.08|| Shame the Devil||George Pelecanos||This makes a pretty great final novel to read of Pelecanos'. It's kind of a combination between his first three Nick Stefanos books and his later three Karras/Clay books in a multi-faceted wrap-up. All the baggage and history behind pretty much every character really loads every page. I really enjoyed this one (no surprise) and was surprised by how much I missed the guys at The Spot.
So let's see. My top 5 Pelecanos books
1. Drama City
3. The Night Gardener
4. Shame the Devil
5. Hard Revolution
Looking back, the books I liked the least were the Strange books. Maybe that's because I read them first or maybe because whatever... He's definitely an author that grows on you though. I can now count myself as an official fan.|